The ecology of family life

The ecology of family life

Ecology of family life
Image credit: T Houslay

We are interested in how parents manage interactions between the family and other species, and how these interspecific interactions drive selection on each member of the family.

We have a longstanding interest in the coevolutionary interactions between avian parents and brood parasites like cuckoos and cowbirds (Kilner & Langmore 2011).

But we are also interested in how parental diet during offspring provisioning can change key features of their developing young (Thorogood et al 2008, Thorogood et al 2011), which can persist into adulthood (Walker et al 2013a). For some species, this has important implications for their conservation (Walker et  al 2013b).

Much of our current work focuses on how parents manage the microbial population that flourishes around the family (e.g. Cotter & Kilner 2010a, b) and whether associations between parents and phoretic mites and nematodes persist for this purpose (Cotter et al 2010).


Cotter, S. C. and Kilner, R. M. 2010a Personal immunity versus social immunity. Behav Ecol 21:663-668

Cotter, S. C. and Kilner, R. M. 2010b Sexual division of antibacterial resource defence in breeding burying beetles Nicrophorus vespilloides. J Anim Ecol 79:35-43

Cotter, S. C. et al 2010 Fitness costs associated with mounting a social immune response. Ecology Letters 13:1114-1123

Kilner, R. M. & Langmore, N.E. 2011 Cuckoos versus hosts in insects and birds: adaptations, counter-adaptations and outcomes. Biol Rev 86:836-852

Thorogood, R. et al 2008 Spectral mouth colour of nestling changes with carotenoid availability. Funct Ecol 22:1044-1051

Thorogood, R. et al 2011 Sense and sensitivity: responsiveness to offspring signals varies with the parents’ potential to breed again. Proc R Soc B 278:2455-2463

Walker, L. K. et al 2013a A window on the past: male ornamental plumage reveals the quality of their early life environment Proc R Soc B 280:20122852

Walker, L. K. et al 2013b Giving hihi a helping hand: identifying appropriate rearing diet in food supplemented populations of an endangered bird. Anim Conserv 16:538-545