Dr James Gilbert
I am interested in the evolution of parental care and social behaviour – especially how these crucial animal interactions shape, and are shaped by, animals’ nutritional environments. In the most spectacularly social or parental species (or groups of species), these behaviours are obligatory, which gives little insight into their evolution. Instead my work focuses on evolutionary origins – first using comparative analyses across groups of species that differ in whether they are social or parental; second, using field and lab experiments on species that are behaviourally plastic, i.e. where individuals can choose whether or not to be social or parental. Finally, I am interested in how these factors play out in the wild – and the unforeseen pressures exerted upon parental and social interactions by anthropogenic change.
Alex Austin has just begun a PhD project (co-supervised with Lori Lawson Handley at Hull and Darren Evans at Newcastle University) using semi-field mesocosm experiments to investigate whether and how wild red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) regulate the macronutrient composition of the pollen nutrition that parents provide to their offspring – and, by constructing and analysing interaction networks, how this may affect the species’ resilience to human induced landscape change.
Catherine Carrick‘s PhD (co-supervised with Lesley Morrell) investigates how density and species purity of resource patches (such as wheat plants or seeds) combine to affect the density of insect consumers (e.g. aphids, or seed beetles) and their natural enemies (e.g. parasitoids). She is using a combination of field and lab experiments and broad comparative phylogenetic methods to evaluate how generally these rules apply across insects.