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Dr Markus Zöttl

Dr Markus Zöttl


New Museum Site
Room T23

Follow me on Twitter @MarkusZoettl

Office Phone: 01223 (3)36673


Aug 12 – on-going     Research associate at the University of Cambridge.

Proximate and ultimate explanations for variation in cooperative behaviour in eusocial damaraland mole-rats (Fukomys damarensis)


July 09 – Sept 12      PhD student, University of Bern

Title: “The social and ecological influence on commodity trading among group members of cooperatively breeding fish”

Supervisor: Prof. Michael Taborsky

May – June 09         Field assistant, Flycatcher project, Öland

March 08 - April 09   MSc project, “Public information about secondary predator cue inspection in meerkats (Suricata suricatta)” supervised by Marta Manser and Eva Millesi

May – June 07         Field assistant, Flycatcher Project, Öland (Anna Qvarnström, Uppsala University)

Jan - Oct 07            Student, Department of Animal Ecology, Uppsala University

2005-2007              Research assistant, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, mate choice in wild house mice (Group leader: Dustin Penn, KLIVV)

2003 to 2009           Studies at the University of Vienna

Research Interests

My main research interest is the evolution and the maintenance of helping and seemingly altruistic behaviour in animals. My interest originates from a deep fascination for animals and in particular for animal behaviour and the attempt to understand why animals and humans behave as they do and which forces and factors shaped the evolution of behaviour. 

My approach is explicitly empirical and I use behavioural experiments conducted in natural populations and under controlled laboratory conditions combined with observational studies in the wild. Previously my research included mainly cooperatively breeding species such as meerkats and cichlid fish but I also contributed to research projects on house mice and flycatchers during my studies in Vienna and Sweden.

In my current project I investigate the proximate mechanisms underlying individual variation in cooperative behaviour and their consequences for life-histories and individual fitness in the cooperatively breeding Damaraland mole-rat (Fukomys damarensis). We will study colonies in artificial tunnel systems, which allow detailed behavioural observations and experimental manipulation and study a permanently marked, wild population of mole-rats at the Kuruman River Reserve (Northern Cape, South Africa). This project will be conducted in collaboration with Prof. Nigel Bennett at the University of Pretoria

During my PhD project at the University of Bern I used the cooperatively breeding cichlid N. pulcher as a model system to investigate long term fitness consequences of variation in contribution to helping behaviour. I approached this question by conducting an observational field study in Lake Tanganyika, where I established a permanently marked study population of cichlids which I studied over the course of two years. In this study I recorded helping behaviour of subordinate group members, in order to find correlations with fitness approximations and fate of these individuals. In addition to this observational approach I conducted several experiments both under controlled lab conditions and in the wild.

Key Publications

  • Zöttl M, Vullioud P, Mendonca R, Torrents Ticó M, Gaynor D, Mitchell A, and Clutton-Brock T. (2016)  Differences in cooperative behavior among Damaraland mole rats are consequences of an age-related polyethism. PNAS 1607885113v1-201607885.
  • Zöttl M, Frommen J, Taborsky M, (2013): Acceptance of immigrants depends on demand and future perspectives in a social fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 280, 1756.
  • Zöttl M, Heg D, Chervet N, Taborsky M, (2013): Kinship lowers alloparental brood care when helpers pay to stay. Nature Communications, 4, 1341.
  • Zöttl M, Chapuis L, Freiburghaus M, Taborsky M, (2013): Strategic reduction of help before dispersal in a cooperative breeder. Biology Letters, 9.

Other Publications

  • Markus ZöttlJack ThorleyDavid GaynorNigel C. BennettTim Clutton-Brock. 2016. Variation in growth of Damaraland mole-rats is explained by competition rather than by functional specialization for different tasks. 
  • Stefan Fischer, Markus Zöttl, Frank Groenewoud, and Barbara Taborsky (2014) Group-size-dependent punishment of idle subordinates in a cooperative breeder where helpers pay to stay. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 281, 1789 20140184; doi:10.1098/rspb.2014.0184 1471-2954

  • Cimadom A, Ulloa A, Meidl P, Zöttl M, Zöttl E, et al. (2014) Invasive Parasites, Habitat Change and Heavy Rainfall Reduce Breeding Success in Darwin's Finches. PLoS ONE 9(9): e107518. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107518

  • Zöttl M, Lienert R, Clutton-Brock T, Millesi E & Manser M, (2013): The effects of recruitment to direct predator cues on predator responses in meerkats. Behavioral Ecology, 24, 198-204, doi:10.1093/beheco/ars154
  • Townsend S W, Zöttl M & Manser M B, (2011): All clear? Meerkats attend to contextual information in close calls to coordinate vigilance. Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1202-6
  • Chervet N, Zöttl M, Schürch R, Taborsky M & Heg D, (2011): Repeatability and Heritability of Behavioural Types in a Social Cichlid. International Journal of Evolutionary Biology doi:10.4061/2011/321729