Avoiding population collapse due to climate change is one of the biggest challenges for our generation. In order to effectively use the limited resources allocated to conservation efforts, we need to understand the characteristics of organisms affecting their vulnerability to changes in the environment. One of the most defining features of organisms is their social dynamics. Understanding the role of social behaviors (aggression versus cooperation) and social structure (family groups versus solitary life-styles) on the ecology and evolution of species is thus of key importance to our conservation efforts. In this project we will combine theoretical analyzes with a detailed behavioral study of a highly social bird species to understand the role of social behavior in extinction risk and the ability to cope with environmental change.
The recent realization that rapid evolution may allow populations to cope with the current pace of environmental change has led to an
increasing number of studies focusing on eco-evolutionary dynamics. However, the role of social interactions in the evolutionary process
(i.e. social evolution) has largely been ignored in this context. This represents a gap in our understanding of eco-evolutionary
dynamics, because competition, cooperation and sexual reproduction are key drivers of the direction and pace of evolution. In this
project, I will use social evolution theory to study eco-evolutionary dynamics in wild populations. I will achieve this by combining cutting-
edge genomic techniques and automated behavioral measuring tools with a unified framework based on behavioral ecology
theory of social traits, quantitative genetics models predicting responses to selection, and projection models from stochastic
population dynamics. This project has an empirical component that focuses on a house sparrow meta-population consisting of 11
islands monitored since 1993. The project will also have a theoretical component where we will use data simulations
to explore the role of social interactions in phenotypic evolution and population growth. In work package 1 we will analyse already collected data from a house sparrow metapopulation to quantify how body mass affects an individual’s fitness, the fitness of interacting partners, and the mean fitness of local populations, to then explore how social selection and genetic relatedness affect short-term evolutionary changes in body mass and population size. In work package 2 we will use theoretical modelling to study the consequences of social interactions on the long-term viability of populations and in work package 3 we will use high-throughput behavioural data collection, to study how relatedness, the frequency of phenotypes and spatio-temporal variation in population size affects agonistic versus associative interactions.