skip to content

Department of Zoology



Individuals in cooperatively breeding societies vary largely in the extent to which they help. Heterogeneity in helping effort can be considered as an iterative process of decision-making whereby an individual's decision to help or not is dependent upon their own attributes (state and age), and on the attributes of group members with which they co-reside. My current work is aimed at understanding to what extent helping effort in meerkat societies is heterogenous across individuals, explores the factors contributing to this heterogeneity, and investigates the consequences for group-level processes on which selection might act (reproductive output, persistence, etc). I am also interested in the operation of senescence in wild populations, and more general questions in behavioural ecology.

I also continue to work on Damaraland mole-rats, the focus of my PhD, conducting behavioural experiments with a captive population and analysing data from a medium-term capture-mark-recapture study in the Kalahari Desert.


Key publications: 






Other publications: 



  • Thorley J, Bensch HM, Finn K, Clutton-Brock T, Zöttl M. (2023) Damaraland mole-rats do no rely on helpers for reproduction or survival. Evolution Letters 7(4), 203-215.
  • Duncan C, Thorley J, Manser MB, Clutton-Brock T. (2023) Dominance loss and tenure maintenance in Kalahari meerkats. Behavioural Ecology 34(6), 979-991.
  • Gillies N,Weimerkirsch H, Thorley J, Clay TA, Martin Lopez LM, Joo R, Basille M, Patrick SC. (2023). Boldness predicts plasticity in flight responses to winds. Journal of Animal Ecology 92(9), 1730-1742.



  • Wearn OR, Bell TEM, Bolitho A, Durrant J, Haysom JK, Nijhawan S, Thorley J, Rowcliffe JM. (2022) Estimating animal density for a community of species using information obtained only from camera-traps. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
  • Zöttl M, Bensch HM, Finn KT, Hart DW, Thorley J, Bennett NC and Braude S. (2022) Capture order across social bathyergids indicates similarities in division of labour and spatial organisation. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 546(10), 877221.
  • Finn KT, Thorley J, Bensch HM, and Zöttl M. (2022) Subterranean lifestyle does not limit long distance dispersal in African mole-rats. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 544 (10), 879014.


  • Leedale AE*, Thorley J*, and Clutton-Brock T. (2021) Odour-based social recongition in Damaraland mole-rats, Fukomys damarensis. Anim. Behav. 179, 83-96. * equal contributions
  • Spence-Jones HC, Brehm AM, Cram D, Gaynor D, Thorley J, Manser MB, and Clutton-Brock T. (2021) Deferred benefits of dominance for natal males in a cooperative breeder, the Kalahari meerkat. Journal of Zoology 35, 236-245.
  • Granweiler J, Thorley J, and Rotics S. (2021) Sparring dynamics and individual laterality in male South African giraffes. Ethology 127, 651-660.
  • Johnston R, Vullioud P, Thorley J, Kirveslahti H, Shen L, Mukherjee S, Karner C, Clutton-Brock T, and Tung J. (2021) Morphological and genomic shifts in mole-rat 'queens' increase fecundity but reduce skeletal integrity. eLife 10, e65760.
  • Thorley J. (2021) Age-related changed in the performance of bowlers in Test match cricket. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching.



  • Thorley J, Duncan C, Sharp SP, Gaynor D, Manser MB, Clutton-Brock T. (2020) Sex-independent senescence in a cooperatively breeding mammal. Journal of Animal Ecology 89: 1080-1093.
  • Francioli Y, Thorley J, Finn K, Clutton-Brock T, Zöttl M. (2020) Beeders are less active foragers than non-breeders in wild Damaraland mole-rats. Biology Letters 16: 20200475.
  • Stervander M*, Dierickx EG*, Thorley J*, de L Brooke M, Westerdahl, H. (2020). High MHC gene copy number maintains diversity despite homozygosity in a Critically Endangered single-island endemic bird, but no evidence of MHC-based mate choice. 2020. Molecular Ecology. *equal contributions
  • Thorley J (2020) The case for extended lifespan in cooperatively breeding mammals: a re-appraisal. PeerJ, 8:e9214.



  • Radchuk V... Thorley J... et al. (2019) Adaptive responses of animals to climate change are most likely insufficient. Nature Communications 10: 3109.     
  • Dyble M, Thorley J, Page AE, Smith D, & Migliano AB (2019) Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers. Nature Human Behaviour 3: 792-796.  
  • Thorley J & T Clutton-Brock (2019) A unified-models analysis of the development of sexual size dimorphism in Damaraland mole-rats, Fukomys damarensis. J. Mammalogy  100: 1374-1386.



  •  Thorley J, Mendonça R, Vullioud P, Torrents-Tico M, Zottl M, Gaynor D, & T Clutton-Brock (2018) No task specialization among helpers in Damaraland mole-rats. Anim. Behav. 143: 9-24.
  • Thorley J, Katlein N, Goddard K, Zöttl M, & Clutton-Brock T (2018) Reproduction triggers adaptive increases in body size in female mole-rats. Proc. R. Soc. B. 285: 20180897.





  • Zöttl M, Thorley J, Gaynor D, Bennett NC, & Clutton-Brock T (2016) Variation in growth of Damaraland mole-rats is explained by competition rather than by functional specialization for different tasks. Biol. Lett. 12: 20160820.



Research Associate


Person keywords: 
quantitative behaviour
Behaviour Change