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Department of Zoology



Across the animal kingdom, social behaviour has been shown to be both a driver of and a response to selection. The question of how social interactions within the family contribute to evolutionary change has received much attention from behavioural ecologists and evolutionary biologists alike, with the former largely focussing on how these interactions are adaptive, and how they impose selection on each member of the partnership, and the latter focussing more on the specific mechanisms of inheritance and how social behaviours of one partner induce the evolution of traits in others. My work unites these approaches by asking how adaptive social behaviour (i.e. parental care) can potentially influence evolution: by providing a mechanism for non-genetic inheritance, by constructing the environment in which further social interactions play out, and by influencing trait loss and trait evolvability. I investigate this using the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides and a combination of breeding experiments, behavioural assays, and genetic, microbial, proteomic and statistical techniques.

The burying beetle represents an excellent system for investigating these consequences of parental care. This species exhibits elaborate but variable biparental care, whereby both parents prepare an edible nest for their young from a small vertebrate carcass. They then defend the larvae from predators and competitors and feed them trophallactically with oral fluids. Larvae can survive without any post-hatching care, in the lab at least, and therefore we can manipulate levels of parental care for experimental purposes.


Key publications: 
  • Bladon EK & Kilner RM (in review at Animal Behaviour) Nest construction and its effect on post-hatching family life in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides
  • Bladon EK, Pascoal S & Kilner RM (in review at Behavioral Ecology) Can recent social evolutionary history promote resilience to environmental change?
  • Bladon AJ, Bladon EK, Smith RK & Sutherland WJ (2023) Butterfly and Moth Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for butterflies and moths. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
  • Bladon EK, Pascoal S, Bird N, Mashoodh R & Kilner RM (2023) The evolutionary demise of a social interaction: experimentally induced loss of traits involved in the supply and demand of care. Evolution Letters, 7(3), 168-175.
  • Bladon EK, English S, Pascoal S & Kilner RM (2020) Early‐life effects on body size in each sex interact to determine reproductive success in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
  • Bladon AJ, Lewis M, Bladon EK, Buckton SJ, Corbett S, Ewing SR, Hayes MP, Hitchcock GE, Knock R, Lucas C, McVeigh A, Menéndez R, Walker JM, Fayle TM & Turner EC. (2020) How butterflies keep their cool: Physical and ecological traits influence thermoregulatory ability and population trends. Journal of Animal Ecology; 00: 1-11. https:/
  • zu Ermgassen EKHJ, Kelly M, Bladon EK, Salemdeeb R & Balmford A (2018) Support amongst UK pig farmers and agricultural stakeholders for the use of food losses in animal feed. PLOS ONE 13(4): e0196288.
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Eleanor Bladon

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