Research Projects

The Guppy Project

The Guppy Project began in 2007 when a team of professional scientists, post-docs and graduate students began studying the ecological and evolutionary consequences of guppy evolution in nature. Our project was built on decades of research of populations of guppies that live with and without predators and on prior experiments in which we tested predictions of evolutionary theory and quantified rates of evolution in nature. One of our early discoveries was that evolution is fundamentally different from what Darwin envisioned.  Evolution is tens of thousands of times faster than had been perceived in the fossil record, which was where Darwin and those who followed sought evidence for the rate of evolution and solidified Darwin’s concept of evolution as a glacially slow process.  In our new experiments, we are exploring the consequences of the rapidity of evolution.  One consequence is the possibility that ecology and evolution are like two actors on a stage, constantly interacting with each other and modifying one another.  This interaction is referred to as eco-evo dynamics. This perspective of ecology and evolution as contemporary, interactive processes is fundamentally different from mainstream thought in the discipline of evolutionary ecology. The mainstream thought had been that evolution is so much slower than ecology that we can ignore evolution when modelling ecological processes.  By 2007, eco-evo theory had shown that if we instead treated evolution as a contemporary process, the predicted outcome of ecological interactions could be fundamentally different from what is predicted by theory that does not include evolution.  Laboratory experiments on model ecosystems proved that this new theory is correct.  Our ambition is to quantify how important dynamic interactions between ecology and evolution are in natural ecosystems. The challenge is learning how to test for the presence of eco-evo dynamics in nature then characterizing their consequences. The promise is that doing so could improve the predictive qualities of both ecology and evolution as sciences. https://theguppyproject.weebly.com/. 

The Silvereye Project

Have you ever wondered what happens when prey escape their predators? When silvereyes, small passerine birds, colonise oceanic islands they evolve large sizes, slower life history, and become more aggressive than their mainland ancestors. Why? One likely reason is the distribution of biotic interactions that individuals experience changes.

With the lead on the silvereye project, Sonya Clegg, we model the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of birds escaping their mainland predators.  We predict how their genomes, phenotypes and life history will evolve.

The Yellowstone Wolf Project

Wolves were driven to extinction in Yellowstone National Park in the early 20th Century. During the seven years they were absent the park changed: elk numbers increased, bison numbers declined, and the vegetation began to change.  In the mid-1990s wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, and the consequences of the reintroduction has been recorded in considerable detail (https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolfreports.htm).

We construct models of the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of wolves, of the role of disease on wolves, and the effect of wolves on their prey, and the vegetation their prey consumes. We work closely with our collaborators in Yellowstone, at Princeton, and Penn State University.

Wytham Small Mammal Project

The Wytham Small Mammal Project continues a long tradition of small mammal research in Wytham Woods. Building on previous research on demography, the current focus is on the ecology of wild mice (Apodemus sylvaticus and A. flavicollis) and their symbiotic gut bacteria as well as their gut parasites. The vertebrate gut flora is now known to mediate many key aspects of host physiology including nutrient acquisition and immunity, and is increasingly recognised as an important determinant of host fitness. However, little is known about the forces shaping these diverse and dynamic microbial communities in natural populations. In this project we are tackling this gap in knowledge by examining how host genotype, maternal effects, diet, habitat and social transmission shape the gut microbiota of wild rodents. To support this research as well as enhance welfare of our study subjects we are also developing novel animal-friendly tracking and trapping technology based on PIT-tag technology, funded by NC3Rs Research Council.

Currently working on Wytham Small Mammal Project: Sarah Knowles, PI, Royal Veterinary College. Aura Raulo, DPhil student, University of Oxford – Effects of social and environmental transmission on wood mouse gut microbiota. Kirsty Marsh, PhD Student, Royal Veterinary College – Effects of seasonal dietary fluctuations and gut parasites on wood mouse gut microbiota. Marc Brouard, post doc, University of Oxford – Population demography of woodland rodents. Curt Lamberth, post doc, Royal Veterinary College – Developing novel animal-friendly trapping and tracking technology

Students: Benjamin Fisk, Undergraduate student – Animal personality and social dominance in wood mice.Tanya Troitsky, Master student – Effects of host genetics and maternal transmission on wood mouse gut microbiota

Past students: Jemima Scarse – Social preference for sex-specific odours in wild wood mice. James Wilcock – Burrow use of wild wood mice. Kylie Dong – Burrow structure of wild wood mice.

List of site pages