Research team

Didactica

Expertise

Didactics Biology Didactics of the Natural Sciences Teacher education Misconceptions about evolution through natural selection Misconceptions about behaviour STEM education Behavioural ecological and Eco-physiological research in songbirds

The female perspective of personality variation in a wild songbird: integrating female competition within life history. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Individual differences in the expression of traits that improve competitive ability ("competitive traits"; e.g. aggression, ornaments) might play a major role in life history trade-offs, but this is rarely examined in females. At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that individuals often consistently differ in a whole suite of behavioural traits, known as personality. This highlights that behavioural traits (like aggression) should not be studied in isolation given they might not be able to evolve independently under selection. Understanding the selective forces acting on competitive traits in females hence requires their integration within both a personality and life history framework, which will be done here for the first time. Using the great tit (a songbird species) as a model, I will examine whether females consistently differ in a wide variety of ecologically relevant behaviours (female-female aggression, nest defence, exploration) and whether this is associated with differences in melanin-based plumage traits and investment in parental care. Solid integration within life history will be done by examining the link with life time fitness variation and telomere dynamics, a potential underlying proximate variable. At the end of this project I aim to have generated a better understanding of the costs and benefits associated with different female competitive phenotypes, and hence why they exist and how they are maintained.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The female perspective of personality variation in a wild songbird: integrating female competition within life history 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

Individual differences in the expression of traits that improve competitive ability ("competitive traits"; e.g. aggression, ornaments) might play a major role in life history trade-offs, but this is rarely examined in females. At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that individuals often consistently differ in a whole suite of behavioural traits, known as personality. This highlights that behavioural traits (like aggression) should not be studied in isolation given they might not be able to evolve independently under selection. Understanding the selective forces acting on competitive traits in females hence requires their integration within both a personality and life history framework, which will be done here for the first time. Using the great tit (a songbird species) as a model, I will examine whether females consistently differ in a wide variety of ecologically relevant behaviours (female-female aggression, nest defence, exploration) and whether this is associated with differences in melanin-based plumage traits and investment in parental care. Solid integration within life history will be done by examining the link with life time fitness variation and telomere dynamics, a potential underlying proximate variable. At the end of this project I aim to have generated a better understanding of the costs and benefits associated with different female competitive phenotypes, and hence why they exist and how they are maintained.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Integrative and experimental study of the effects of artificial light exposure at night during development in birds in the real world: merging mechanistic approaches with short- and long-term health and fitness consequences. 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Artificial light at night (ALAN) has been underexplored as an anthropogenic stressor compared to chemical and noise pollution and it can be considered a threat to biodiversity. Because organisms have evolved with the periodicity of light dark cycles, ALAN may affect multiple aspects of behaviour and physiology. Changes in behaviour and physiology associated with ALAN may have particularly strong effects early in life, when developmental trajectories are sensitive to stressful conditions. Yet, a major gap in knowledge involves the effects of ALAN during development, particularly in natural populations. Using birds as a model, we will perform the first study to comprehensively examine how exposure to ALAN affects physiological stress in nestlings in the short- and long-term. We will examine whether early life light exposure affects aging rate, as indicated by telomere dynamics. Finally, we will assess whether exposure to ALAN early in life has enduring effects on the phenotype and fitness (reproduction, survival) of adults. We will use experimental approaches, involving manipulations of light inside nestboxes and cross-fostering experiments. We will also collect correlational data, using a population exposed to heterogeneous light regimes. By elucidating effects of ALAN on developing organisms and assessing mitigating strategies (such as part-night lighting), our study will motivate action to cope with the consequences of living in lighted environments.

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Metal Pollution and Oxidative Stress: Exploring effects on aging rate, behavior and fitness. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

Toxic pollutants increasingly threaten the integrity of natural populations. Metal pollution can have particularly detrimental effects on organisms and entire ecosystems. One potent means by which metal pollution may affect organisms is by elevating oxidative stress, resulting in biomolecular damage and fitness declines. However, the long-term behavioral and fitness implications of metal-induced oxidative stress are poorly understood. Using great tits (Parus major) as a model species, I propose to comprehensively explore how metal pollution affects oxidative stress, aging rate, behavior and fitness. I will perform the first study to examine whether metal-induced oxidative stress affects aging rate, on the molecular level as indicated by telomere degradation, and in terms of sexual signals and fitness traits. I will also explore effects of metal pollution on risk-taking behavior, which may be altered via effects of oxidative stress on neural function and life history decisions. I will study nest box populations of great-tits located across a metal pollution gradient. Experimental approaches will include exposing nestlings to metals and antioxidants, a parental risk-taking experiment, and measuring exploratory behavior in the laboratory. This study will make a pioneering contribution to evolutionary biology by testing the oxidative stress theory of aging in the context of metal pollution, and have critical importance to ecotoxicology and conservation biology.

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Short and long term effects of light pollution on the great tit (Parus major) and the effectiveness of mitigating strategies. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Light pollution is likely to have a diverse and complex impact on individual animals. It can influence multiple biological systems simultaneously both directly and indirectly. The overall aim of this project is therefore to study the effects of light pollution and emerging mitigating strategies (part-night and adaptive lighting) on songbirds (great tits) in an integrated way.

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Effects of light pollution on behavioural, life-history and physiological traits in a songbird: an integrative approach. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Light at night (LAN) is likely to have diverse and complex impacts on individual animals. It can influence multiple biological systems simultaneously both directly and indirectly. Therefore the overall aim of this project is to study the effects of LAN on songbirds in an integrated way. Great tits (Parus major) are highly suited to address our objectives.

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Short and long term effects of light pollution on the great tit (Parus major) and the effectiveness of mitigating strategies. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

Light pollution is likely to have a diverse and complex impact on individual animals. It can influence multiple biological systems simultaneously both directly and indirectly. The overall aim of this project is therefore to study the effects of light pollution and emerging mitigating strategies (part-night and adaptive lighting) on songbirds (great tits) in an integrated way.

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Research team(s)

NME within PROVANT. Nature and environmental education in the Province of Antwerp: targeted and effective? 01/07/2013 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Province of Antwerp. UA provides the Province of Antwerp research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

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From Would be to Be it. Research into new forms of training in teacher education. 01/01/2013 - 31/08/2015

Abstract

This project investigates alternative and/or new formats for field experiences. The project started with an inventory of possible formats for field experiences in teacher education. Based on this inventory team teaching was explored in further detail and implemented thanks to pilot projects in two specific teacher training programmes. The project investigates how the actors involved in team teaching (student teachers, mentors, teacher educators and learners in the classroom) experience different team teaching models. Moreover, it examines the effect of the models on student teachers' learning patters and learning outcomes. (This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other ELAnt. UA shall contribute to the project under the conditions as stipulated in the present contract.)

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We are chemistry, development of educational materials and packages for chemistry teachers in the second stage of secondary education. 01/07/2012 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Province of Antwerp. UA provides the Province of Antwerp research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

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Art and the evolution of signalling in a cultural species: a comparative approach. 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

This project aims to tackle some pending philosophical, psychological and biological isues with regard to art by combining research methods from these different domains. The following questions will be addressed. (1) Is there a deep similarity between human art and "artistic" behaviour in animals or are the observed similarities only superficial? (2) To what extent can signalling theory - a body of theoretical work within evolutionary biology examining communication between individuals - make precise predictions about art systems or traditions? (3) Can applying signalling theory to art shed new light on authenticity, a long-standing problem in the philosophy of art?

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Adaptive value and mechanisms of variation in maternal hormones in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus). 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

In this study we examine maternal yolk hormones in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), which give the female the ability to modify offspring phenotype to their future environment. We study the variation of maternal yolk hormones within and between clutches. We search evidence for possible mechanism of variable hormone deposition in the yolk and we study the effects of variable deposition for the offspring, in the short term as well as in the long term.

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Causes and consequences of variation in complex secondary sexual song characteristics: a longitudinal and multidisciplinary approach by integrating behavioural, physiological and molecular data. 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

During this project we aim to study, in an integrated manner, the causes and consequences of variation in a wide range of song characteristics in the great tit. By utilising automatic song recording systems, we will register and quantify all possible aspects of the song of at least 200 free-living great tits in full detail. We aim to monitor as many males as possible during their life time. The unique dataset obtained in this way will be used for further cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. We will study the causes and consequences in song behaviour in an integrated way by using physiological, immuno-endocrine, and state-of-the-art molecular techniques, as well as personality and learning tests and heredity analyses.

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Adaptive value and mechanisms of variation in maternal hormones in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus). 01/10/2008 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

In this study we examine maternal yolk hormones in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), which give the female the ability to modify offspring phenotype to their future environment. We study the variation of maternal yolk hormones within and between clutches. We search evidence for possible mechanism of variable hormone deposition in the yolk and we study the effects of variable deposition for the offspring, in the short term as well as in the long term.

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Research team(s)

Study of secondary sexual traits and behaviour in female songbirds : an interdisciplinary approach. 01/10/2003 - 30/09/2006

Abstract

Secondary sexual characteristic give signals about individual quality to potential mates- 'good genes' hypothesis. In the last years there is a growing interest in studies concerning evolution of secondary sexual traits in female species. In the literature there are more and more evidence signifying that the mate choice may not be limited to the female, but may occur bilaterally. Furthermore it has been suggested that secondary sexual traits in females can have an adaptive value. This research aims at better understanding of the function of secondary sexual traits in female individuals. It focuses particularly on song behavior in female starlings, which until now has not been studied in detail, and explores its endocrine and neurobiological basis. The study gives attention to the seasonal and individual variation in female song activity. By investigating the relationships between song characteristics (song complexity and/or song frequency) and other characteristics (immunocompetence, weight, timing of pair formation and clutch size) this research provides a better view at the adaptive significance of variation in female song behavior. Preliminary results suggest that female song in this species might be used as an honest signal advertising quality.

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Testing the resource of allocation hypothesis in small passerines. 01/10/2002 - 30/09/2004

Abstract

Several models of sexual selection predict that females choose males of high quality, an attribute that can be inherited by their offspring wich in turn enhances their survival (good genes models), on the basis of secondary sexual traits. However, over the years, it has been difficult to define this quality. In 1982, Hamilton and Zuk (1982) proposed that the resistance to infections and diseases (immunocompetence) could be used by females to choose a mate. For a few years now, possible tradeoffs between the individual immune system and fitness related traits like reproductive efforts and secondary sexual traits (ecological immunology) have become also more of interest.

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Micro- and macrogeographic song variation in the blue tit (Parus caeruleus). 01/10/2002 - 30/11/2002

Abstract

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    Study of secondary sexual traits and behaviours in female songbirds : an interdisciplinary approach. 01/01/2002 - 31/12/2005

    Abstract

    Male secondary sexual behaviours have been the focus of intensive research. By contrast, the evolution of secondary sexual behaviours in females has received little attention. This project tries to get a better understanding of the function of secondary sexual behaviours (song and aggressive behaviour) in female starlings Sturnus vulgaris and will study their importance in intra-sexual rivalry and in mate choice by males. The endocrine and neurobiological basis of song behaviour in females will also be studied.

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    Study of secondary sexual traits and behaviour in female songbirds : an interdisciplinary approach. 01/10/2001 - 30/09/2003

    Abstract

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      Integrated study of the effects of testosterone on the reproductive behaviour, secondary sexual traits and the immune system in the great tit. 01/10/2000 - 30/09/2002

      Abstract

      Several studies indicate that testosterone influences reproductive and social behaviour, the expression of secondary sexual traits and the immune system. The possible effects of testosterone will be investigated coherently by following a double strategy. First the relations with the natural testosterone levels will be described. Secondly the consequences of experimentally elevated testosterone concentrations will be studied.

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        Effects of testosterone on social and reproductive behaviour, reproductive success and survival in the European sterling (Sturnus vulgaris). 01/10/1999 - 30/09/2001

        Abstract

        In this project we try to elucidate the endocrine basis for individual variation in mate reproductive behaviour, reproductive success and survival in the European sterling (Sturnus vulgaris), a facultatively polygynous passerine.

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          Integrated study of the effects of testosterone on the reproductive behaviour, secondary sexual traits and the immune system in the great tit. 01/10/1998 - 30/09/2000

          Abstract

          Several studies indicate that testosterone influences reproductive and social behaviour, the expression of secondary sexual traits and the immune system. The possible effects of testosterone will be investigated coherently by following a double strategy. First the relations with the natural testosterone levels will be described. Secondly the consequences of experimentally elevated testosterone concentrations will be studied.

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            Effects of testosterone on social and reproductive behaviour, reproductive success and survival in the European sterling (Sturnus vulgaris). 01/10/1997 - 30/09/1999

            Abstract

            In this project we try to elucidate the endocrine basis for individual variation in mate reproductive behaviour, reproductive success and survival in the European sterling (Sturnus vulgaris), a facultatively polygynous passerine.

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              Study of the importance of male parental care in determining reproductive success in the European Starling Sturnus vulgaris. 01/01/1993 - 31/12/1993

              Abstract

              The aim of the present study is to investigate to which extent monogamous and polygynous males assist their female in incubating the eggs and feeding the nestlings. We will also collect data about the organisation and length of the prolonged parental care after fledging.

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                Reproductive strategies and copulation behaviour in passerines 01/10/1991 - 14/12/1994

                Abstract

                The aim of this project is to study in detail the reproductive strategies (polygyny, mate guarding, extra-pair copulations) and copulation behaviour (sperm competition) in passerines.

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