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Department of Zoology



My research involves the use of game theory and evolutionary simulation modelling to predict how animals behave under different social and ecological conditions. I am particularly interested in communicative behaviour, and the design of animal signals (including sexual and agonistic display, and signalling between parents and their offspring).

My work in this area has focused on potential conflicts of interest between signallers and receivers, which may favour deception or concealment of information, and the mechanisms that can serve to maintain honesty in the face of such conflict. I have also, however, tried to integrate this strategic perspective with more mechanistic theories, which emphasise the influence of receiver psychology on signal design.

Another area of interest is the tactics of mate choice, particularly in species where both sexes exercise a degree of selectivity. Finally, I have recently begun to develop a series of models examining conflict and cooperation in communal breeders. I am particularly interested in factors influencing the partitioning of reproduction within animal groups (i.e. the level of 'reproductive skew'), and the ways in which dominant group members are able to control or check the reproductive activities of subordinates.


Key publications: 
  • Kuijper, B, Johnstone, RA & Townley, S (2014) The evolution of multivariate maternal effects. PLoS computational biology, 10, e1003550.
  • Johnstone, RA, Cant, MA and Field, J (2012) Sex-biased dispersal, haplodiploidy and the evolution of helping in social insects. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279: 787-793
  • Grodzinski, U and Johnstone, RA (2012) Parents and offspring in an evolutionary game: The effect of supply on demand when costs of care vary. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279: 109-115
  • Johnstone, RA and Manica, A (2011) Evolution of personality differences in leadership. PNAS 108: 8373-8378
  • Johnstone, RA and Cant, MA (2010) The evolution of menopause in cetaceans and humans: the role of demography. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277: 3765-3771
  • Hinde, CA, Johnstone RA and Kilner, RM (2010) Parent-Offspring Conflict and Coadaptation. Science 327: 1373-1376
  • Johnstone RA and Otto, S (2008) Kin Selection, Local Competition, and Reproductive Skew. Evolution 62: 2592-2599
  • Bro-Jørgensen, J, Johnstone RA and Evans MR (2007) Uninformative exaggeration of males sexual ornaments in barn swallows. Current Biology. 17: 850-855
  • Rands, SA, Cowlishaw, G, Pettifor, RA, Rowcliffe, JM and Johnstone RA (2003) Spontaneous emergence of leaders and followers in foraging pairs. Nature. 423: 432-434.
  • Hager, R and Johnstone RA (2003) The genetic basis of family conflict resolution in mice. Nature. 421: 533-535.
  • Johnstone RA (2002) The evolution of inaccurate mimics. Nature. 418: 524-526.
  • Johnstone RA and Cant, MA (1999) Reproductive skew and the threat of eviction: a new perspective. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 266: 1-5.
  • Johnstone RA, Reynolds, JD and Deutsch, J. C. (1996) Mutual mate choice and sex differences in choosiness. Evolution 50: 1382-1391.
  • Johnstone RA (1997) Recognition and the evolution of distinctive signatures: when does it pay to reveal identity? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 264: 1547-1553.
  • Johnstone RA (1994) Female preference for symmetrical males as a by-product of selection for mate recognition. Nature 372: 172-175.
Professor of Evolution and Behaviour

Contact Details

Room 1.08 David Attenborough Building
01223 (3)36685
Accepting applications for PhD students.