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Department of Zoology



I've spent my academic career based at the Zoology Department in Cambridge, though during that time I've held visiting fellowships at the Australian National University and Cornell University, when I travelled there for fieldwork. After finishing my PhD, I was a Junior Research Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge and then was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship followed by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. In 2004, I was appointed to a University Lectureship, which I took up in 2007. I was promoted to Reader in 2009 and to Professor in 2013. In 2008 and 2010 I was on maternity leave.


current post-doc and PhD positions within the group are advertised on our research website,

and on Twitter @BuryingBeetle

Our research investigates how social evolution generates biodiversity. We're specifically interested in how parental behaviour contributes to the evolutionary process through its effects on genetic and phenotypic diversity; through the way in which parents act as agents of natural selection; and through the diverse ways in which parents might even promote speciation.

This is important because evolutionary biology can play a key role in addressing conservation problems. It can potentially predict which species will flexibly adapt in a changing world, for example, as well as how rapidly evolutionary change can arise and whether the loss of a single species can precipitate a collapse in local biodiversity.

Our current research focuses mainly on burying beetles, though we continue to study bird species as well.

Our main collaborators are Dr Naomi Langmore (Australian National University), Dr Sheena Cotter (University of Lincoln), Dr Cassie Stoddard (Harvard), and Dr Martin Welch (Dept of Biochemistry, Cambridge).


Key publications: 

Kilner, R. M., Boncoraglio, G., Henshaw, J. M., Jarrett, B.J.M., de Gasperin, O. & Kokko, H. (2015). Parental effects alter the adaptive value of an adult behavioural trait. eLife DOI: 10.7554/eLife.07340

Feeney, W. E., Medina, I., Somveille, M., Heinsohn, R., Hall, M. L., Mulder, R. A., Stein. J. A., Kilner, R.M. & Langmore, N. E. (2013) Brood parasitism and the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds. Science 342: 1506-1508

Cotter, S. C., Topham, E., Price, A. J. P. & Kilner, R. M. (2010) Fitness costs associated with mounting a social immune response. Ecology Letters 13: 1114-1123

Hinde, C. A., Johnstone, R. A & Kilner, R. M. (2010) Parent-offspring conflict and coadaptation. Science 327: 1373-1376

Russell, A. F., Langmore, N. E., Cockburn, A., Astheimer, L. B. & Kilner, R. M. (2007) Reduced egg investment can conceal helper effects in cooperatively breeding birds. Science 317:941-944

Full list of publications via Google Scholar

Professor of Evolutionary Biology
Director, University Museum of Zoology
Professor Rebecca Kilner
Accepting applications for PhD students.