Evolutionary ecology of black grouse

Black grouse Lyrurus tetrix are a lekking species of gallineacous bird, found across Eurasia. Though reasonably common in northern areas, southern and western populations are locally threatened. Black grouse are an interesting species to study in the context of life hisory. They are relatively short-lived and male reproduction is extemely skewed. Few males successfully mate in their lifetime. Males also express a number of sexual traits and behaviours.

a black grouseBlack grouse have long been used as models of sexual selection. In 2001, the late Professor Rauno Alatalo and Dr Heli Siitari of the University of Jyvaskyla began an ongoing long-term study of black grouse populations in central Finland. This work has built a long-term dataset of individual records, containing measures of phenotype, behaviour and physiology. Such a dataset allows us to answer key questions regarding life history evolution and sexual selection.

This work currenty has three major themes that are part of ongoing funding bids: firstly, the underlying inbreeding and genomics of male fitness and sexually-selected traits; the role of physical activity in driving indivdual ageing rates; the epigenetic basis of sexual ornament expression. Future work will look at the impact of hunting and and climate change on the individual life histories.

Magpies and maternal effects

magpie chicks

Currently, I am studying magpie Pica pica, fitness, in particular looking at how maternal provisioning of eggs with hormones may impact their life history decisions later in life. Some recent work we published showed consisitent differences in personality in a sex-specific manner. Our current aim is to see if this translates into cognitive differences and potentially to longer term fitness outcomes.