Evolutionary Ecology
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Behavioural Ecology

Prof. Dr. Niels Dingemanse

sp_Photo1We conduct evolutionary behavioural ecology research, asking questions about the adaptive evolution of behavioural strategies, and their genetic architectures, within an ecological context. Our research is motivated by behavioural ecology, life-history, and quantitative genetics theory, and seeks to test predictions and assumptions of adaptive theory using observational and experimental approaches in the laboratory and the wild.
We monitor 12 nest box populations of a passerine bird model (the great tit) south of Munich since 2010, providing unique longitudinal data of breeders and their offspring with respect to various key life-history and behavioural traits. We can thus uniquely study the action of selection and why it may favour a modular trait structure, such as represented by the integration between life-history and behavioural strategies (‘pace-of-life syndromes’) in the wild.


We primarily focus on behaviours mediating the trade-off between current and future reproduction, such as aggressiveness and exploratory tendency, and use large-scale population-level environmental manipulations (predation risk, resource availability) to study how the interaction between ecological and population-level processes shape the adaptive evolution of trait integration in the wild. We use genetic pedigrees to estimate parameters key in testing evolutionary theory in the wild, while laboratory studies of pedigreed insect models (field crickets) further allow us to study how the interaction between genes and environment (e.g. diet, competitive regimes) shaped the genetic architecture of life-history behaviour.
Our group is further at the forefront of the development of statistical tools to quantify multi-level and multi-variate variation. For example, we have developed with a team of international collaborators an educational software package entitled SQUID (Statistical Quantification of Individual Differences) that enables self-teaching and research into mixed-effects modelling analyses and optimal sampling designs.

 

For more details on our current research at the LMU see the webpage “Research”.

 

  

Dr. Cristina Tuni

Christina Tuni

I am broadly interested in reproductive biology, sexual selection and mating system evolution. Sexual selection is currently undergoing a paradigm shift since the increasing evidence that females seek and engage with more than one mating partner (polyandry) has challenged the traditional concept of choosy and monogamous females. One of my main research interests is to understand the adaptive significance of female promiscuity and male mating strategies in polyandrous mating systems using invertebrates as model organisms, particularly spiders and crickets.

Together with experimental laboratory trials through which I study reproductive behavior and fitness components in polyandrous species I also conduct field studies to assess the ecological factors that may ultimately constrain encounter rates among potential mating partners and affect mating strategies in natural populations.

One of the direct consequences of polyandry is that it allows sexual selection to extend beyond mating in the form of sperm competition and cryptic female choice. Post-mating sexual selection is an important evolutionary force driving an extraordinary diversity of morphological, physiological and behavioral reproductive traits. I apply molecular methods to estimate natural mating rates and paternity patterns, both in the wild and in laboratory experiments, to understand the strength of post-copulatory selection in shaping reproductive traits and its interaction with ecology and life history evolution. I am also particularly interested in understanding the proximate mechanisms underlying fertilization outcome by investigating reproductive tract morphology, the mechanisms of sperm transfer and sperm competition.