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How does social behaviour change evolution?

How does social behaviour change evolution?

Supervisors: Prof Rebecca Kilner, Dr Sonia Pascoal

Project summary:

A key challenge for evolutionary biologists is to be able to predict the rate at which organisms can adapt in a rapidly changing world, and to understand how past evolutionary events might enable some populations to persist in a new environment, but doom others to a more uncertain future. Experimental evolution offers a way of tackling these two problems. It allows us to see how evolution unfolds in real time, giving us insight into processes that might otherwise go undetected. It also enables us to causally connect a population’s evolutionary history to its capacity to cope in a new environment. This project will use experimental evolution to analyse how social behaviour changes the course of evolution and enables populations to survive in a changed environment. 

What the student will be doing:

Burying beetles are unusual among insects in exhibiting biparental care, where parents provision their larvae. You will analyse experimentally evolving populations of burying beetles that have been exposed to two different types of social environments in the laboratory for 20 generations: one with parental care and one with no-post hatching care. The aim is to identify new adaptations and co-adaptations in parents and larvae as they evolve (this is already happening, and new traits are constantly evolving!). You will also determine whether past selection by these different social environments differently influences their ability to withstand future genetic stresses.


Schrader, M., Jarrett, B. J. M & Kilner, R. M. 2015. Using experimental evolution to study adaptations for life within the family. American Naturalist, vol. 185, pp.610-619, DOI 10.1086/680500

Lumley, A. J. et al. 2015 Sexual selection protects against extinction. Nature, vol. 522, pp.470 -473, DOI 10.1038/nature14419


Ongoing consumables budget for burying beetle lab. Applicants may apply to the NERC DTP for funding for this project.