skip to primary navigationskip to content

Ornela De Gasperin Quintero

Ornela De Gasperin Quintero
Room F23
Office Phone: 01223 (3)34466

Research Group

Behavioural Ecology Group:
PhD student

Research Interests

I want to understand the factors shaping the diversity of social behaviours exhibited within and across animal species. My main focus is on how ecological traits influence the evolution of social behaviours. My PhD research investigated how interspecific interactions (like parasitism or mutualism) change the optimal life-history strategy implemented by an organism, and the extent of conflict and cooperation between individuals of the same species. To answer these questions I used the interaction between burying beetles and the mites they carry. My PhD research produced three main findings:

  1. Interspecific interactions can have sex-specific and age-specific effects on individuals. Because they can have opposite effects on individuals of the same species, they can generate evolutionary conflicts between them.

  2. Interspecific interactions can trigger changes in life-history trade-offs. In particular, they can alter how much individuals invest in current or future reproductive events, and tip the balance between offspring size and number.

  3. There is a continuum from parasitism to mutualism depending on the ecological context and the interacting individuals.

 Prior to Cambridge

I graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. During my undergraduate training in Mexico I was involved in several research projects. In 2009 I carried out a research project on lizards of the species Sceloporus grammicus microlepidotus that showed that the ventral blue patch in male is a social signal. During that year I also worked as a camp helper at "Islas Marietas" National Park for two projects on the brown booby, Sula leucogaster. 

Between 2009 and 2011 I developed my undergraduate thesis, which explored the influence of early social experience on adult courtship patterns in males of two populations an endemic Mexican fish commonly known as “Amarillo” (Girardinichthys multiradiatus)Previous experiments with field-trapped fish had shown that males change their courtship behaviour when courting allopatric females, but they do not manage to replicate the typical courtship pattern of the population of the female. To understand whether developing with allopatric females influences the adult courtship behaviour I raised males from two allopatric populations with either allopatric or sympatric females, and compared their courtship patterns once they were adults. 

Key Publications

  • De Gasperin O. & R.M. Kilner. 2016. High mite density changes the trade-off between offspring size and number in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. PLoS ONE, in press

  • De Gasperin O. & R.M. Kilner. 2015. Interspecific interactions change the outcome of sexual conflict over pre-hatching parental investment in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. Ecology and Evolution, 5, 5552–5560

  • De Gasperin O., Duarte, A. & R.M. Kilner. 2015. Interspecific interactions explain intraspecific variation in the duration of paternal care in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. Animal Behaviour, 109, 199207

  • De Gasperin O. & R.M. Kilner. 2015. Friend or foe: interspecific interactions and conflicts of interest within the family. Ecological Entomology, 40, 787–795

  • De Gasperin O. & C. Macias Garcia. 2014. Congenital predispositions and early social experience determine the courtship patterns of males of the Amarillo fish. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 68, 639648

Other Publications


  •  Duarte, A., Cotter, S., Reavey, C., Ward, R., De Gasperin, O. & R.M Kilner. 2015. Social immunity of the family: parental contributions to a public good modulated by brood size. Evolutionary Ecology, 30, 123-135

  • Kilner, R.M., Boncoraglio, G., Henshaw, J., Jarrett, B., De Gasperin, O. & H. Kokko. 2015. Parental effects alter the evolutionary economics of social interactions within the family. Elife, 4, e07340

Research theses

  • De Gasperin O. 2015. PhD thesis: Ecological interactions and family dynamics in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. University of Cambridge, 160pp

  • De Gasperin O. 2011. Undergraduate thesis: Effect of early social experience on courtship patterns on males of the Amarillo fish. National Autonomous University of México, 96pp

 Science communication articles

  • De Gasperin, O. 2015. How does nature deal with humans? BlueSci 33:14-15

  • De Gasperin, O. 2015. Do animals get lost? BlueSci 32:10-11