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Research

My research is in behavioural ecology and my main interest lies in the interface of animal communication and evolutionary biology.  I combine observations, sound recordings and experimental manipulations on birds and mammals to study animal communication from an evolutionary point of view.  My research integrates behavioural observations, detailed acoustic analysis, ecology and genetics (for analysing paternity) aiming to understand how the structure of acoustic signals and the messages they convey correlate with an individual's reproductive success and other aspects of its life history.
The following projects are ongoing:

Begging behaviour in cooperative mammals

I am working on begging behaviour in the cooperative breeding meerkat (Suricata suricatta).  We are working with well habituated groups of meerkats in the Kalahari, South Africa.  Most empirical work on begging behaviour has been conducted on altricial birds, where young are fed at a nest.  In contrast, meerkat pups are mobile and join providers foraging, and are able to solicit food from potential feeders by using different begging calls.  Therefore begging behaviour may have been shaped by constraints other than those found in stationary feeding systems.  In a first step, we try to understand the signal value and the functions of the different call types.

Functions of vocalisations in polygynous mammals

Male vocal displays have been shown to play an important role in sexual selection through both male-male competition and female choice.  We are studying a population of sea lions (Zalophus californianus wollebaeki) on a small island close to Santa Cruz, Galapagos.  We investigate how sea lions use vocalizations at different stages of the mating season, and how the use of vocalizations correlates with dominance status and the quality of the occupied territory.

Song and sexual selection in the nightingale

The song of the nightingale has enchanted people for centuries.  Already Charles Darwin mentioned the nocturnal song of the nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) as a striking example of a trait under sexual selection, but the functions of this singing behaviour are not well understood.  In our study population in the Petite Camargue Alsacienne, France, we investigate the functions of song according to the time of day and investigate how males use different song categories in vocal interactions.

Image of Blue tit

Dawn singing behaviour of blue tits

In spring, many male passerine birds sing at a high rate at dawn, referred to as the dawn chorus.  In blue tits (Parus caeruleus), the dawn chorus coincides with the fertile period of the female.  Previous studies on blue tits showed that characteristics of the dawn chorus correlate with male reproductive success.  We investigated the influence of testosterone on the dawn singing behaviour of blue tits.