Post-doctoral fellows



Elisa Perez Badas, University of Leeds (in collaboration with David Macdonald, Chris Newman & Christina Buesching)

Synchrony vs. asynchrony of senescence in European badgers

Despite a recent surge in research in ageing biology, the drivers and mechanisms that underlie ageing in natural populations are still poorly understood. I will use longitudinal data from a European badger population in order to study and compare patterns of senescence across a range of physiological, morphological, biomolecular and reproductive traits. By gaining a deeper understanding of senescence across traits within the same individuals, we will be able to provide insights on the mosaic nature of senescence.



Alex Sparks, University of Leeds (in collaboration with David Richardson)

Genomics of senescence in Seychelles warblers

Within wild populations, there is considerable variation in the onset and rate that individuals senesce, but the causes of this variation remain poorly understood. I will be using genomic data and quantitative genetic analyses to investigate the genetic basis of senescence in the Seychelles warbler, and investigate how genetic variation in ageing rates is maintained in the face of natural selection. I am also interested in how early life conditions and life history decisions influence ageing patterns in later life.


PhD students



Tom Brown, University of East Anglia (supervised with David Richardson & Martin Taylor)

Biomarkers of senescence in the Seychelles warbler

Why individuals of the same chronological age vary in biological age is not well understood. Biomarkers that reflect age-related declines in condition are the key to understanding this variation. I will test which biomarkers best predict future survival and breeding success in the Seychelles warbler, and whether variation in these biomarkers can be explained by environmental and social factors. This knowledge will help guide interventions that could prolong healthy life.



Sil van Lieshout, University of Leeds (supervised with Amanda Bretman & Keith Hamer; assessed by Simon Goodman)

Early-life environment effects on telomere dynamics in European badgers

There is enormous individual variation in ageing. Underlying mechanisms, like telomere lengths, have been studied but our knowledge of the factors influencing telomere dynamics is limited. Sil’s research will assess how environmental and social factors influence the length of telomeres and their rate of shortening. This will improve fundamental knowledge on the evolution of senescence and the ability of individuals to cope with environmental change.


Charlotte Bartleet-Cross

Charlotte Bartleet-Cross, University of Sheffield (supervised with Terry Burke & Steve Paterson)

Conservation genomics of the Seychelles warbler

Inbreeding has a huge effect on the evolution and proliferation of small, isolated populations of conservation concern. Despite its importance, the genetic architecture of inbreeding and its influence on fitness is still poorly understood. By analysing the genome and comparing inbreeding depression in source and translocated populations of Seychelles warblers, Charlotte will produce models to guide future conservation management plans.


Charli Davies

Charli Davies, University of East Anglia (supervised with David Richardson & Martin Taylor)

Antagonistic effects and the maintenance of genetic variation

Genetic variation is crucial in maintaining the adaptive potential of populations. Variation is particularly important when considering immune genes, determining the ability of individuals to combat pathogens and thus influencing their survival. Charli is investigating how different mechanisms – including antagonistic effects on survival and reproduction – interact to maintain genetic variation at various immune genes within the Seychelles warbler.


Laura Najera Cortazar

Laura Najera Cortazar, University of Leeds (supervised with Simon Goodman; assessed by Mary O’Connell)

Ecological genomics and speciation boundaries in the Myotis bats

How do environmental and ecological variation influence patterns of gene flow? Laura will investigate this question by studying genomic variation of a Myotis bat complex along the 1300 km length of the Baja California Peninsular in Mexico. By analysing spatial and genomic variation within and among the Myotis species Laura will improve our understanding of their ecological differentiation and environmental adaptations.


Sara Raj Pant

Sara Raj Pant, University of East Anglia & Groningen (supervised with David Richardson & Jan Komdeur)

Evolutionary forces underlying promiscuity in the Seychelles warbler

Promiscuity is commonplace, even in supposedly monogamous species, yet the evolutionary forces acting on this behaviour are rarely quantified. This is important as promiscuity has widespread effects on key factors such as reproductive skew, gene flow and sexual selection. Sara is investigating the causes and consequences of individual variation in promiscuity in the Seychelles warbler to improve our understanding of why this is maintained.


Michela Busana

Michela Busana, University of Groningen (supervised with Jan Komdeur)

Population dynamics and dispersal

Individuals differ in their dispersal behaviour, from their birthplace to breeding location. These differences are influenced by the social environment, which impacts on fitness and population dynamics. Michela’s PhD combines experimental fieldwork with mathematical modelling. She is investigating how social interactions influence dispersal decisions in the cooperatively breeding Seychelles warbler, and the consequences this has on population dynamics.


Jildou van der Woude

Jildou van der Woude, University of Groningen (supervised with Jan Komdeur & David Richardson)

Physiological consequences of life-history strategies in the Seychelles warbler

Seychelles warblers have been translocated to four islands, and on one of these islands invasive common mynas occur. Jildou is investigating the impact of common mynas on male and female Seychelles warblers. She found that around 25% of trapped individuals had head wounds, with a tendency for these to be in females. Preliminary analysis of the survival of Seychelles warblers shows that female adult survival is affected by myna density.


Paula Marjamäki

Paula Marjamäki, University of Exeter (supervised by Alastair Wilson, Robbie McDonald & Dez Delahay; Hannah advises Paula on pedigree construction)

Genetic variation of TB infection in European badgers

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) affects cattle and a wide range of host species, such as badgers, which has large economic consequences. The susceptibility of individual hosts to disease can have a genetic basis, and Paula aims to quantify the genetic basis of bTB susceptibility and disease progression in badgers to inform management decisions. To this end, Hannah is advising Paula on the construction of a molecular genetic pedigree of the Woodchester Park badger population, which will be used in quantitative genetic analyses.


Masters students

Ashleigh Atkinson, University of Leeds (in collaboration with Eric Walters and Joey Haydock)
Heritability of lifetime reproductive success in acorn woodpeckers

Lifetime reproductive success (LRS) is a key measure of fitness, yet the relative influence of genetics and the environment on LRS is comparatively under-researched. Ashleigh will use long-term data, a genetic pedigree and ‘animal’ models to partition genetic and environmental variance components of LRS in acorn woodpeckers. This will contribute to our understanding of evolutionary processes and the genetic basis of life history traits.


Joe Greening, University of Leeds (in collaboration with Eric Walters and Joey Haydock)
Direct fitness benefits of helping in acorn woodpeckers

The main fitness benefit of helping in acorn woodpeckers is thought to be indirect, via kin selection. Many direct fitness benefits of helping, however, have yet to be researched. Joe will use long term genetic pedigrees to test for evidence of the group augmentation and delayed reciprocity hypotheses as direct fitness benefits for helping in acorn woodpeckers.


Michael Mason, University of Leeds (in collaboration with David Macdonald, Chris Newman & Christina Buesching)
Immuno-senescence in European badgers

The onset and rate of immuno-senescence varies considerably between individuals, yet, our understanding of the social drivers predicted to shape this variation is limited. Michael will use differential leukocyte counts and detailed individual data collected from a population of European Badger to investigate the effects of social environment on immuno-senescence. This will improve knowledge on the evolution of senescence and our understanding of why individuals differ in lifespan.


Completed molecular ecology technician


Natalie dos Remedios

Natalie dos Remedios, University of Sheffield

Genotyping of acorn woodpeckers

Acorn woodpeckers are cooperative breeders that can live in groups with multiple breeders of both sexes. This makes parentage assignment tricky as neither parent is known a priori. Natalie conducted laboratory work to genotype the long-term Hastings Natural History Reservation population of acorn woodpeckers. She developed techniques to extract DNA from historic feather samples going back to the 1970s. By genotyping several thousand birds with lifetime data we can now investigate the heritability of helping behaviour.

Completed database manager


Owen Howison

Owen Howison, University of Groningen (supervised with Jan Komdeur)

Seychelles warbler database manager

Owen has an MSc degree in biology and 30+ years experience in using databases, GIS and satellite imagery for natural resource management. His main role was controlling data input into the Seychelles warbler database, running checks on data credibility and correcting errors. Owen was also responsible for maintaining data on the Seychelles Warbler wiki, and assisting students to write queries to extract data from the database.

Completed post-doc


Margarete Utz

Margarete Utz, University of Groningen (supervised with Franjo Weissing and Jan Komdeur)

Individual variation in dispersal

In many organisms individuals differ systematically in their dispersal behaviour. Dispersal may then be correlated with other behaviours such as aggression, but the direction of this correlation may differ between species. Margarete developed analytical models and individual based simulations to investigate why these differences in dispersal syndromes arise, and what the consequences are for social evolution and mate choice, using a theoretical approach.

Completed PhD students


Hannah Edwards

Hannah Edwards, University of Sheffield (supervised with Terry Burke)

Personalities and fitness

Individuals vary consistently in their behaviour resulting in different ‘personalities’. Hannah Edwards estimated the heritability of and selection on personality traits in the Seychelles warbler, to understand how multiple personalities are maintained in a population. She  demonstrated no relationship between Seychelles warbler personality and SERT or DRD4 genetic variation. Additionally, Hannah showed that exploration is linked to reproductive rather than social status in Seychelles warblers. Hannah’s PhD research has been published in: Behavioral Ecology (2018), Behavioral Ecology (2017), Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology and PLoS ONE


Antje Girndt

Antje Girndt, Imperial College London (supervised by Julia Schroeder; PhD advisory committee: Hannah Dugdale & Hanne Løvlie)

Age, extra-pair mating strategies and fitness

Mating strategies vary between species, populations, individuals, and even within an individual. In birds, older males often sire more offspring with multiple females than younger males. However, it is unclear whether males become more polygamous when growing old or the effect arises because older males simply live longest. Antje’s PhD focused on extra-pair reproduction in birds to explore how age explains individual variation in fitness.


Nick Beckley

Nick Beckley, Imperial College London (Hannah advised Nick on pedigree construction)

Pseudo-vertical transmission of Mycobacterium bovis

European badgers are a wildlife reservoir of M. bovis, which causes bovine TB. Badgers can transmit M. bovis to other badgers through the air and close contact, but the importance of these routes is mainly unknown. Nick and Hannah built a genetic pedigree that Nick used to test: 1) the proportion of badgers culled during the RBCT proactive trial, 2) whether mothers transmit bTB to their cubs through close contact, (which is known as pseudo-vertical transmission), and 3) the impact of the RBCT closed season on cub welfare. This work will help inform vaccination strategies.

 Els Atema Els Atema, The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (Hannah advised Els on quantitative genetic analyses)

Heritability of telomere length 

Telomeres are repeated DNA sequences that are located at the end of chromosomes. The length of the telomere is heritable, however, this is often calculated through a parent-offspring regression, which confounds genetic and environmental variation and can inflate heritability estimates. Els estimated the heritability of telomere length in zebra finches and investigated how the heritability varies with the methods and models used to estimate it. This research was published in the Journal of Ornithology.

 Simon (Yung Wa) Sin Simon (Yung Wa) Sin, University of Oxford (supervised with David Macdonald & Chris Newman)

MHC, mate choice and parasite resistance

The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a cluster of genes that mediate an adaptive immune response. Simon has demonstrated that diversity in the MHC of the European badger has resulted from different evolutionary processes (trans-species polymorphism and concerted evolution). Simon demonstrated that MHC diversity may be driven by pathogen-mediated selection and that MHC-assortative mate choice occurs in badgers. This research was published in: Molecular Ecology (2015), Molecular Ecology (2014), Ecology and Evolution, PLoS ONE, and Immunogenetics.


Geetha Annavi

Geetha Annavi, University of Oxford (supervised with David Macdonald & Chris Newman)

Genetic diversity, fitness and mate choice

The relationship between genetic diversity and fitness in wild populations provides an insight into selection and evolutionary processes. Geetha’s work showed that European badger cubs with heterozygous fathers have greater survival in wet years compared to cubs with more homozygous fathers. Her thesis correlated extra-group paternity (EGP) with survival advantages and showed sexually antagonistic lifetime reproductive benefits of EGP. This research was published in: Journal of Evolutionary BiologyEcology and Evolution, and  Conservation Genetics Resources.


Completed Masters student (since 2014)


Tom Bellis

Tom Bellis, University of Leeds (supervised with Deborah Dawson; in collaboration with Scottish badgers)
Genetic origins of badgers on the Isle of Arran, Scotland

European badgers (Meles meles) in Western Europe were founded by a single refugial population, however, across the United Kingdom, the badger has localised genetic structure. The aim of this project was to understand where the badger population on the Isle of Arran was founded. Tom genotyped DNA samples from the Isle of Arran and mainland Scotland, and compared them to a database of genotypes from across Europe.


Amy Withers

Amy Withers, University of Leeds (supervised with Deborah Dawson)
Conservation genetics of otters

Otters rapidly declined in the UK due to river pollution and became extinct locally in many regions. However, recent legal protection and conservation efforts have improved river quality leading to otters returning. Amy identified and sexed individual otters using newly designed molecular markers to improve our understanding of the number, distribution and movements of otters along the River Don.


Shreya Goswami

Shreya Goswami, University of Leeds
Pseudo-vertical transmission of coccidia in European badgers

Coccidiosis causes diarrhoeal enteritis, which impairs growth and increases mortality rates. Cocidia infection is higher in badger cubs than adults. Badgers that clear infections can become reinfected, however, transmission pathways are unknown. Shreya investigated whether maternal and allomaternal care resulted in pseudo-vertical transmission, between breeding females and cubs.


Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson, University of Leeds

Habitat use of translocated Seychelles warblers

The Seychelles warbler was once critically endangered, after a bottleneck of just 46 birds on one island. Conservation management, led by Nature Seychelles, has resulted in the down-listing of the warblers to near threatened, and they now occur on five islands. Tom’s project assessed the status of the population resulting from last translocation of 59 birds to Fregate island in 2011. In particular, Tom investigated habitat use and modelled the population growth rate to inform conservation management decisions. Tom’s Masters resulted in a publication in the Journal of Ornithology.


Nadia Jogee

Nadia Jogee, University of Leeds (supervised with Catarina Vinagre)

Biomarkers of cellular stress in reef-building corals

Nadia’s project was in collaboration with MARE (Marine & Environmental Sciences Centre) at the University of Lisbon. Nadia used data from an experimental set up of reef-building corals. Five species of corals were kept at different temperatures, and Nadia used this experiment to investigate biomarkers of cellular stress with respect to temperature to improve our understanding of how these reef-building corals can respond to global change.


Simon Weigl

Simon Weigl, University of Konstanz (supervised with Julia Schroeder and Sjouke Kingma)

Selection pressures in cooperatively breeding bee-eaters (Merops apiaster): Correlates of breeding success

European bee-eaters are facultative cooperative breeders that nest in burrows in sand-cliffs. Simon mapped an island population of European bee-eaters, recording burrow and colony characteristics. Simon’s research project correlated these characteristics with breeding success. Simon’s fieldwork resulted in a publication in the Journal of Ornithology.