Professor of Behavioural Ecology
Tel.: +44 (0)1223 334405
My research is in Behavioural Ecology, the study of behavioural adaptations in relation to ecological and social conditions. In theory, natural selection should favour behavioural strategies which best promote an individual's ability to pass copies of its genes on to future generations. This creates conflicts in animal populations, not only conflicts between rivals for territories and mates but also conflicts within seemingly harmonious ventures such as male-female pairs cooperating to rear offspring. My work attempts to elucidate the nature of these conflicts and to understand how they are resolved.
My current work is concerned with two topics. First, how does social organisation within a population reflect conflicts within and between the sexes? Field observations and experiments with colour-ringed populations of Dunnocks Prunella modularis (Cambridge Botanic Garden) and Alpine Accentors P. collaris (Pyrenées) have shown how male-female conflicts give rise to variable mating systems and variable patterns of parental care. Second, a study of a breeding conflict between species, namely between the Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and its hosts, has revealed co-evolution of adaptations and counteradaptations at both the egg and chick stage. Current work is aimed at understanding how cuckoo chicks manipulate their hosts by their begging behaviour, and is being extended to other species of cuckoos.
I encourage PhD students and post-docs. to come up with their own ideas for research. Current and recent topics include: deceptive vocal signals and food stealing by drongos in the Kalahari, parent-offspring interactions in yellow billed hornbills in the Kalahari, cooperative breeding in Australian babblers, sexual selection in tooth-billed bowerbirds in Australia, cooperative breeding in crows in Spain, and cuckoo-host co-evolution in the fenland around Cambridge.
- Davies, N.B., Krebs, J.R. & West, S.A. (2012). An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology. Fourth edition. Wiley- Blackwell.
- Thorogood, R. & Davies, N.B. 2012. Cuckoos combat socially transmitted defences of reed warbler hosts with a plumage polymorphism. Science 337, 578- 580.
- Welbergen, J.A. & Davies, N.B. (2011). A parasite in wolf's clothing: hawk mimicry reduces mobbing of cuckoos by hosts. Behav. Ecol. 22, 574-579
- Davies, N.B. (2011). Cuckoo adaptations: trickery and tuning. J.Zool. 284, 1-14
- Davies, N.B. & Welbergen, J.A. (2009) Social transmission of a host defense against cuckoo parasitism. Science 324: 1318-1320.
- Welbergen, J.A. & Davies, N.B. (2009). Strategic variation in mobbing as a front line of defense against brood parasitism. Current Biology 19: 235-240.
- Davies, N.B., Madden, J.R., Butchart, S.H.M. & Rutila, J. (2006). A host-race of the cuckoo Cuculus canorus with nestlings attuned to the parental alarm calls of the host species. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 273: 693-699.
- Davies, N.B., Madden, J.R. & Butchart, S.H.M. (2004) Learning fine-tunes a specific response of nestlings to the parental alarm calls of their own species. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 271: 2297-2304.
- Davies, N.B. (2000). Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats. pp 310. T. and A.D. Poyser.
- Kilner, R.M., Noble, D.G. and Davies, N.B. (1999). Signals of need in parent-offspring communication and their exploitation by the common cuckoo. Nature, 397: 667-672.
- Davies, N.B., Kilner, R.M. and Noble, D.G. (1998). Nestling cuckoos Cuculus canorus exploit hosts with begging calls that mimic a brood. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 265: 673-678.
- Brooke, M. de L., Davies, N.B. and Noble, D.G. (1998). Rapid decline of host defences in response to reduced cuckoo parasitism : behavioural flexibility of reed warblers in a changing world. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 265: 1277-1282.
- Davies, N.B., Hartley, I.R., Hatchwell, B.J. and Langmore, N.E. (1996). Female control of copulations to maximise male help : a comparison of polygnandrous dunnocks and alpine accentors. Animal Behaviour 51: 27-47.
- Davies, N.B. (1992). Dunnock Behaviour and Social Evolution. Oxford University Press.