I arrived in the Langkilde lab to take up a postdoc position (held jointly in the Sheriff lab) in March – and it’s been a brilliant first few weeks of getting to know not just a new lab and study system, but also a new country!
I grew up on a small island on the west coast of Scotland, which explains a lot about my love of the outdoors and exploring the natural world (also my love of whisky, bagpipes, and anything fried in batter). I was awarded a BSc in Zoology from the University of St Andrews in 2009, and then moved south of the border to take up a PhD position at the University of Cambridge.
For my PhD, I was interested in investigating how much helpers help in cooperative societies. Why might one individual provide help to another (for example, by assisting in rearing their offspring), and what determines how much they help? I looked particularly at allonursing behaviour, which is when a female nurses the offspring of another – in humans, we call this (now fairly rare!) practise “wet-nursing”. I had an amazing study system at my disposal to help me answer some of these research questions – the Kalahari meerkat!
After my PhD I moved to birds as model systems for researching maternal, rather than helper, investment in offspring. For my first postdoc project (with Dr Rose Thorogood), I investigated how food- and carotenoid-supplementation regimes in the endangered hihi in New Zealand might influence the outcomes of brood hierarchies and sex ratio variation. I was also awarded a research grant from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour to test whether maternal investment in offspring in a cooperatively breeding bird, the red-winged fairy wren, varies according to helper care. You can find out more about these projects, and my PhD research on my website.
I am really excited to join the fence lizard team and the Langkilde lab to work on unravelling the complex relationship between invasive fire ants and eastern fence lizards in the US. My projects will be looking at how stress influences fence lizard moms, and what the downstream consequences are for offspring survival and behaviour. We are heading to Alabama to start studying these guys in one month – so stay tuned for excitement from the field!