University of Sheffield
Hannah Dugdale

Research interests

Evolution of social behaviour

Sexual selection and mate choice

Evolution of personalities

Senescence in wild populations

Cooperative breeding

Current research

How and why social behaviours evolve has intrigued behavioural ecologists for decades. Cooperative breeding behaviour occurs when individuals help to raise offspring that are not their own. Social-evolution theory states that individuals should behave in a way that increases their genetic contribution to future generations. As cooperative breeding can be costly it’s therefore not clear why individuals should help others.

For cooperative-breeding behaviour to evolve, it must be heritable and under selection. I am quantifying the selection on and genetics underlying cooperative-breeding behaviour in two wild populations (Seychelles warbler and acorn woodpecker). Specifically, I am interested in how the environment and interactions with relatives affect the rate and direction of selection on the genes that control the expression of behaviours. This will improve our understanding of how behaviours evolve.

I use 'animal' models to quantify heritabilities, but these models were developed for controlled breeding situations and their assumptions and predictions have not been validated in real-world scenarios. Similarly, most fitness estimators (that I use to quantify selection pressures) have not been validated in wild systems. I am developing individual-based models to map the scope and limitations of these techniques, and to improve them when necessary.

How much a warbler feeds their offspring may be influenced by how much other group members feed them; thus, as the behaviour evolves so does the environment. Photo: J van de Crommenacker
Family tree (genetic pedigree) of Seychelles warblers. Blue and red  lines go from a father and mother to their offspring, respectively, with parents shown higher up than offspring. Photo: HL Dugdale

Previous research

My doctoral research focused on how mating systems influence the evolution of delayed dispersal and how relatedness and reproductive skew vary within social groups. I examined between-individual and within-individual variation in breeding success, specifically looking into reproductive restraint, senescence, cooperative breeding, and mate choice. I then investigated how social interactions, such as directed aggression and allogrooming, relate to breeding success.

For my masters, I demonstrated annual variation in the offspring sex-ratios of badgers. I also built a molecular phylogeny of the ZFX and ZFY final intron of the Strepsirrhines, with particular focus on the Lemuroidea superfamily.

Current opportunities for graduate study

PhD at the University of East Anglia on: The evolutionary forces underlying extra-pair paternity in Seychelles warblers. Supervisors: David Richardson and Hannah Dugdale. For funding possibilities click here.

If you are interested in joining the Seychelles warbler project please check our website for further information.


Follow me on twitter @hannahdugdale  

Research interests
Career history
Contact details
Hannah Dugdale