School seminar series: Cooperative breeding: long-term studies in the time of twitter

15 March 2013

Andrew Cockburn (Division of Evolution, Ecology & Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University)

Cooperative breeding, where more than two individuals combine to rear a single brood ofoffspring, is one of the major problems of evolutionary biology, as some carers must be provisioning offspring that are not their own. Cooperative breeding has evolved hundreds of times in birds, and has been investigated with many of the most intense long-term studies of any wild organisms. This seminar will probe two unresolved problems and a unique opportunity that emerges from these studies. The first problem is why has an 'ecological' predictor for cooperative breeding has remained so elusive. Second, I will show that sexual conflict is a common consequence of the evolution of cooperative breeding, necessitating theory that explains how these societies often remain extremely stable despite such conflict. I will then demonstrate how the unique data sets that emerge from the study of cooperative breeding afford unique opportunities to probe other important theoretical questions in evolutionary ecology. I willillustrate this opportunity by describing how massive pedigrees of superb fairy-wrens can be used to illuminate the troubling question of how geneticvariation can resist depletion when females impose strong selection throughmate choice, and how this leads to a new theory of how condition-dependence and sexual signalling interact.

Followed by lunch at the Grandstand - please let Shawn know if you wish to come along

Time: 1-2pm

Location: DT Anderson Lecture Theatre, A08