Behavioural Ecology

A howler monkey in a tree

The Behavioural Ecology Research Group was established in 2017, following our recent strategic growth in behavioural ecology research.

Behavioural ecology can be broadly thought of as the study of adaptations; it is the study of animal behaviour in an evolutionary context.

Core areas of research in the Behavioural Ecology Research Group currently include animal communication, cognition, social behaviour, and animal welfare. We cover a wide range of study organisms, including mammals, birds, insects, crustaceans, fish and cephalopods. Our research involves fieldwork in South America, the Antarctic and the Arctic, Tanzania, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Austria, Spain, Portugal and the UK. We also carry out work in museums, zoos, and laboratories.

Members of our group include academics, postgraduate researchers and professional staff. We are an active research community with recent achievements that include papers in Current Biology, Nature Communications, Nature Scientific Reports, Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology and Biology Letters, as well as funding from the Royal Society and National Geographic.

We welcome collaboration and enquiries from potential incoming Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellows under the European Union's new Horizon 2020 programme.

We offer our Biology PhD, and a range of innovative research project opportunities for postgraduate researchers.

If you would like to find out more about our research, please contact Dr Jacob Dunn, Director of the Behavioural Ecology Research Group.


Find out more about our members by exploring their staff profiles.

PhD researchers
Technical staff
  • Julia Mackenzie
  • Jackie Bodimead
Associated members
  • Dr Toby Carter
  • Dr Charlotte Nevison


Funding grant for Biology

Royal Society award £20K research grant into the evolution of vocal communication

Delegation from the Konrad Lorenz Research Station visits our University

Social relationships of greylag geese

Dr Sophie Mowles has carried out new research on the fiddler crab, recently published in the journal Biology Letters, 2018, and referenced below in key publications. Robotic crabs helped Sophie understand the importance of tempo for fiddler crabs during mating.

A new study led by Dr Claudia Wascher shows that geese cope with the harsh winter climate by reducing their heart rate and body temperature. Read the full news article for more information. The research has recently been published in the journal Scientific Reports, 2018, and is referenced below in key publications.

PhD researcher Max Kerney led a new study that indicates why play has such an important role in the development of the brain in different species. The research was published in Primates, 2017, and is referenced below in key publications. Read the full news article entitled 'How play helps brain development'.

Research, led by Dr Sophie Mowles and published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, 2017, studied the behaviour of the male banana fiddler crab showing that their elaborate courtship displays help to advertise both their physical fitness and the size of their home. Read the full news article for further details.

Key publications

Casewell, N.R., Visser, J.C., Baumann, K., Dobson, J., Han, H., Kuruppu, S., Morgan, M., Romilio, A., Weisbecker, V., Ali, S.A., Debono, J., Koludarov, I., Que, I., Bird, G.C., Cooke, G.M., Nouwens, A., Hodgson, W.C., Wagstaff, S.C., Cheney, K.L., Vetter, I., van der Weerd, L., Richardson, M.K. and Fry, B.G., 2017. The Evolution of Fangs, Venom, and Mimicry Systems in Blenny Fishes. Current Biology, 8(27), pp.1184-1191.

Ponte, G., Sykes, A.V., Cooke, G.M., Almansa, E. and Andrews, P.L.R., 2017. The digestive tract of cephalopods: Toward non-invasive in vivo monitoring of its physiology. Frontiers in Physiology, 6(8).

Cooke, G.M., 2017. Stereotypic behavior is not limited to terrestrial taxa: A response to Rose et al. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, (22) pp.17-18.

Bowling, D.L., Garcia, M., Dunn, J.C., Ruprecht, R., Stewart, A., Frommolt, K-H. and Fitch, W.T., 2017. Body size and vocalization in primates and carnivores. Scientific Reports, (7).

Garcia, M., Herbst, C.T., Bowling, D.L., Dunn, J.C. and Fitch, W.T., 2017. Acoustic allometry revisited: morphological determinants of fundamental frequency in primate vocal production. Scientific Reports, 1(7).

Kerney, M., Smaers, J.B., Schoenemann, P.T. and Dunn, J.C., 2017. The coevolution of play and the cortico-cerebellar system in primates. Primates, 4(58), pp.485-491.

Mowles, S.L., Jennions, M.D. and Backwell, P.R.Y., 2018. Robotic crabs reveal that female fiddler crabs are sensitive to changes in male display rate. Biology Letters, 14(1).

Wascher, C.A.F., Kotrschal, K., and Arnold, A., 2018. Free-living greylag geese adjust their heart rates and body core temperatures to season and reproductive context. Scientific Reports, 8(1).

Frigerio, D., Ludwig, S.C., Hemetsberger, J., Kotrschal, K. and Wascher, C.A.F., 2017. Social and environmental factors modulate leucocyte profiles in free-living Greylag geese (Anser anser). PEERJ, (5).

Ludwig, S.C., Kapetanopoulos, K., Kotrschal, K. and Wascher, C.A.F., 2017. Effects of mate separation in female and social isolation in male free-living Greylag geese on behavioural and physiological measures. Behavioural Processes, (138), pp.134-141.

Wascher, C.A.F., Hemetsberger, J., Kotrschal, K. and Frigerio, D., 2017. Leucocyte profiles and family size in fledgling Greylag Geese (Anser anser). Avian Biology Research, 4(10), pp.246-252.