Professor Pat Monaghan - Research Interests

Professor Pat Monaghan - Research Interests

Regius Professor of Zoology

Contact details:
Room 426, Graham Kerr Building
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine
University of Glasgow
G12 8QQ

Tel.: 0141 330 6640
Fax: 0141 330 5971

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Bird in weighing sackLife-history strategies and effects of early conditions on phenotypic development and on deterioration in later life; long and short term resource allocation trade-offs; mainly birds, with related work on other taxa, including fish and amphibia.

Research interests

My current research focus is broadly in behavioural and evolutionary ecology. The emphasis is on the responses of individuals to changing environmental conditions and the proximate factors influencing these responses. At present, I am particularly interested in growth, reproductive performance and senescence, and associated life history trade-offs. I have a number of projects examining the long term consequences of conditions in early life. My research group works on wild and captive populations of birds since these offer excellent opportunities for testing a number of theoretical predictions in this area. We also work on other taxonomic groups. Recent work has focused resource allocation and developmental trade-offs, and the mechanisms that underpin organismal level consequences over various timescales.

These projects are multidisciplinary, and involve collaborations with molecular biologists, endocrinologists and physiologists, and we study mechanisms such as hormonal factors, telomere loss and oxidative damage. 

Choughs Shags

Our work involves a combination of experimental and correlative studies is the field and in the laboratory. We carry out individual-based longitudinal studies using zebra finches, examining the effect of factors such as environmental stresses and early life nutrition.

I collaborate with other ecologists involved in long term individual-based studies in the field. This includes a long term study of the red-billed Chough on the inner Hebridean island of Islay, from both fundamental and conservation related perspectives (with colleagues from the Scottish Chough Study Group and the University of Aberdeen), and the European Shag (with colleagues from the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Edinburgh). These collaborations enable us to both tease apart causal factors and to examine the relevance to wild populations. I have a long term interest in seabird population dynamics, and have PhD students working in this area jointly with the RSPB and with colleges at the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.


Zebra finches

Our work is currently funded mainly by a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award which I hold to investigate the effect of environmental circumstances on telomere dynamics, using the zebra finch, and by grants from UK research funders including: BBSRC (with Melissa Bateson and Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University  examining the effect of early life diversity on phenotypic development in starlings), NERC (with Neil Metcalfe, Glasgow University, examining growth, telomere dynamics and longevity in sticklebacks), and the Leverhulme Trust (with Francis Daunt, CEH,  examining the effect of environmental stress on telomere dynamics and longevity in the European Shag), and the AXA Foundation (with Jose Noguera & Neil Metcalfe, examining the effect of early diet on subsequent life history).

We are  also working on stress and telomere dynamics in meerkats and Damaraland molerats (part of an ERC grant to Tim Clutton-Brock, Cambridge University). My group is also funded through studentships for PhD students and fellowships for postdoctoral researchers.

With respect to our work on telomere dynamics, I am particularly interested in forging more links with researchers in other disciplinary areas.  To this end, I have recently obtained a Leverhulme International Network Grant (with Dr Dan Nussey, University of Edinburgh, Dr Mark Haussmann, Bucknell University, Prof Abraham Aviv, New Jersey Medical School and Professor Woody Wright, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre). This will enable us to organise a series of multidisciplinary workshops for telomere researchers over the next three years.

Understanding diversity in telomere dynamics
(compiled and edited Pat Monaghan, Dan T. A. Eisenberg, Lea Harrington, Dan Nusse)

Picture of sand lizard telomeres at chromosome endsTelomeres are specialised non-coding DNA-protein complexes that cap the ends of the linear chromosomes of eukaryotes. They constitute an ancient system that protects both genome integrity and the DNA coding sequences from the loss of DNA that occurs at chromosome ends during cell division. Telomere length and loss are related to degenerative disease and longevity. However, while the basic system is similar, the pattern of telomere loss and restoration varies greatly across different kinds of organisms.  The new theme issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is concerned with trying to understand the factors underlying this diversity. Until recently, almost all of the research on telomeres was in the context of understanding how telomere malfunctioning can lead to human diseases such as cancer or accelerated ageing. However, there has been a burgeoning of interest in looking at how telomeres operate in different kinds of animals, and in understanding variation in telomere dynamics in species with different morphologies and life histories.

This special issue represents a coming together of scientists from different disciplinary backgrounds, including evolutionary biology, ecology, cell biology and biomedicine, to understand and elucidate the origins and diversity of telomere dynamics, and their role in driving, or constraining, the evolution of the key life-history traits of growth, reproduction and longevity. This focus on telomere variation in healthy animals is still at an early, and very exciting, stage. There is much that we do not know about the causes and consequences of inter- and intra-specific variation in telomere length. The interdisciplinary interactions that made this special issue possible were facilitated by an International Network Grant from the Leverhulme Trust. The cover picture shows sand lizard telomeres at chromosome ends.

Full citation:
Pat Monaghan, Dan T. A. Eisenberg, Lea Harrington, Dan Nussey (eds.) 2018. Understanding diversity in telomere dynamics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, 373: 1741;

Current Group Members

Current Group Members

Post Doctoral Researchers

  • Dr Winnie Bonner (ERC) The ecological significance of telomere dynamics: environments, individuals and inheritance
  • Dr Valeria Marasco (ERC) The ecological significance of telomere dynamics: environments, individuals and inheritance
  • (Marie Curie Fellowship) The influence of dietary antioxidants on telomere dynamics and life history plasticity in birds
  • (NERC) Why is fast growth costly, and what are the consequences for offspring viability?
  • Dr Sophie Reichert (BBSRC) Early life adversity, telomere length and adult cognition: the starling as an experimental model

Research Technicians

  • Kate Griffiths (ERC)
  • Robert Gillespie (ERC) Telomere dynamics in social mammals
  • Agnieszka Magierecka (ERC)
  • Eugenia Martin
  • Michael Rennie (ERC)

Research Students

  • Hannah Watson (BBSRC, jointly supervised by Dr Mark Bolton, RSPB) Effects of human disturbance on physiology, behaviour and fitness in European Storm PetrelsBethany Nelson (NERC, jointly supervised with CEH colleagues Francis Daunt, Sarah Wanless & Alastair Dawson) Early warnings of climate change: hormonally mediated effects in seabirds
  • Gail Robertson (NERC, jointly supervised by Dr Mark Bolton, RSPB)  Comparative studies of foraging and breeding behaviour in seabirds on Coquet Island
  • Daryl McLennan (NERC, jointly supervised by Neil Metcalfe & W. Boner Glasgow and J.D. Armstrong (Marine Scotland Pitlochry Laboratory).  Do environmental conditions influence the viability of wild salmon through effects on oxidative and telomere dynamics?

In addition to external collaborations, I also collaborate with researchers in the Institute, particularly Neil Metcalfe and Colin Selman.