Develop theoretical models to understand the link between cooperative behaviour, environmental variability and population dynamics, and subsequently test these ideas by comparing long-term datasets of various Australian fairy wren species
Our environment is changing at unprecedented rates. A major challenge is to identify general rules that help us to predict the climate sensitivity and extinction risk of species. So far, this has proven easier said than done and we still have little evidence that the life-history or ecology of a species accurately predicts its sensitivity to environmental variability and its extinction risk. Interestingly, environmental variability is thought to be a key driver for the evolution of cooperative breeding in animals (i.e. in which some individuals forego reproducing themselves and instead help others to breed). This suggests that the effects of environmental variability on population dynamics might be directly shaped by the levels of cooperation in species (e.g. animals that recieve help may be better at raising offspring under extreme conditions, which might buffer their population fluctuations). This project aims to (a) develop general models to understand the link between cooperative behaviour, environmental variability and fluctuations in population numbers, and (b) compare many long-term datasets from field studies on various Australian fairy wren species to empirically test these ideas. Specific projects could focus on any or all of the following aspects: (i) analysing empirical data from specific long-term studies, (ii) comparative analysis of patterns across fairy wren species, and (iii) theoretical modelling.