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Universität Hamburg Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum

Keynote speakers

Dr. Marion East

Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research
Berlin, Germany

Social behaviour: its costs and benefits in socially structured mammal groups

Although social behaviour is broadly defined as any interaction among members of the same species, I will take a more restricted view and mainly focus on mammalian species that live in socially structured groups. I will discuss some common principles and mechanisms underlying social behaviour in these mammals. Clearly, group living inevitably entails both fitness benefits and costs. Similarly, social behaviour throughout the lifespan of an individual will also have profound fitness consequences, even though measuring these can be problematic, particularly in long-lived species. The social environment encountered on a daily basis by any individual in a pack living species is relatively constant, but this is less true for members of fission-fusion groups which can tailor their social behaviour to enhance the benefits and reduce the costs associated with each social encounter. To achieve this, considerable social competence is required. I will use examples from long-term research on the spotted hyaena to illustrate this point and will provide examples that question some traditional views on the causes and consequences of social behaviour in large carnivores.

Prof. Dr. Michaela Hau

Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
Seewiesen, Germany

Hormones as mediators of social behavior: fitness relationships, individual variation and evolutionary trajectories

In many wild populations, only a small percentage of individuals transmits their genes to subsequent generations. What makes an individual particularly successful? Hormones translate genotypes into phenotypes, are important mediators of environmental information and regulators of social behavior. Using the glucocorticoid corticosterone as an example and free-living great tits (Parus major) as a study system, I will show how the hormonal make-up of individuals relates to a broad array of behavioral traits including personality/exploration speed, pair bond dynamics, parental behavior and reproductive investment. To understand how selection may shape hormonal phenotypes, I will relate hormone variation among individuals to fitness (reproductive success). To increase our understanding of evolutionary trajectories in the hormonal organization of individuals, I will explore whether hormone levels are consistent traits within individuals and outline future research directions to assess the heritability and evolvability of hormonal traits.


Prof. Dr. Manfred Milinski

Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology
Plön, Germany

Which individual traits are really important for human mate choice?

The advantage of sexual reproduction is an unsolved problem of biology. Asexual reproduction is at least twice as efficient. Nevertheless, almost all plants and animals reproduce sexually. To overcome the efficiency disadvantage it needs a twofold quality advantage of sexual reproduction every generation anew. Sexual reproduction seems to pay off only if we choose our partners such that their immune genes are complementary to ours so that the offspring have optimal resistance against ever changing infectious diseases. There are more than a thousand variants of immune genes and almost each human being has a different composition of about six of these variants. We signal through our body odor (but also through the perfume that we like to wear) which immune genes we have. A partner with immune genes that optimally fit to ours has an attractive odor, but only for us (“den/die können wir gut riechen”). The natural chemical signal, the natural perfume, is the same in fish, mice and humans, and most probably in all other vertebrates. We can synthesize it and use it as perfume.


Dr. Wiebke Schuett

Zoological Institute and Museum, Biocenter Grindel, University of Hamburg
Hamburg, Germany

On the evolution of nosy neighbours and personality differences

Life is a continuous stream of decisions: individuals are consistently confronted with many options to choose from. Different options may have very different fitness consequences. Therefore, individuals should invest into collecting information about each option in order to identify the best option in the current situation. Individuals should especially invest into collecting information when fitness consequences of the decision can be vast, such as breeding decisions. How do individuals decide where and with whom to breed? And what are the consequences of such choice? In the first part of the talk I will present our experimental and correlative work on individual breeding habitat decisions: in wild pied flycatchers and jackdaws we investigate what kind of information individuals collect when visiting each other’s nests, how different information sources are combined when making breeding habitat decisions and which factors explain why some individuals are nosier than others. Also, I will present results from a study in which we experimentally assessed how different information sources are used during mate choice decisions in a cichlid fish. In the second part I will elucidate whether female zebra finches consider male behavioural characteristics (personality traits) as well as their own personality type during mate choice and I will present the consequences of such choice. Results from the second part of the talk will shed light into some of the evolutionary mechanisms underlying the maintenance of consistent behavioural differences among individuals (personality differences).


Dr. Andy Young

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter
Penryn, United Kingdom

Sex differences in cooperation and ageing in wild social vertebrates

Males and females often differ markedly in their social behaviour and life-history trajectories, but the origins of these differences remain poorly understood. I will present our recent work on the origins of sex differences in cooperative behaviour and ageing in wild social vertebrates. In cooperatively breeding societies, one sex often contributes more to the cooperative care of young than the other. One hypothesis is that these differences are an evolutionary consequence of sex differences in dispersal, as the more philopatric sex may stand to gain greater downstream direct benefits from cooperative care as it will interact for longer with the offspring that it helps to raise. I will present new support for this hypothesis from our field research on white-browed sparrow-weaver societies and a comparative study across cooperative vertebrates. Sex differences in ageing trajectories are also widespread, with males frequently showing more rapid late-life declines in performance than females. I will present our work on ageing in wild European badger societies, which provides rare support for the view that sex differences in senescence can be attributed to somatic maintenance costs arising from the intensity of intra-sexual reproductive competition experienced in early adulthood. For more information on our research, see www.animalsocieties.org or follow us @animalsocieties.