Farine Lab: Research


Project briefs:

Collective decision-making and social dynamics of animal groups

  • What rules do individuals use when joining and remaining in groups?
  • How do social relationships influence collective decision-making and movement?
  • Do developmental conditions shape interaction rules, and does development shape how individuals experience the costs and benefits of grouping?

Linking phenotypic social structure to individual fitness

  • What role does phenotypic group composition of groups play in influencing individuals to form, maintain, and leave groups?
  • How does social behaviour mediate selection on phenotypic traits, and does the phenotype composition of groups lead to local variation in selection pressure?
  • Can population structure itself be under selection?

Collective sensing of the environment

  • What strategies do individuals use when choosing what information to acquire?
  • How is information about the environment transmitted between individuals?
  • Does information transfer shape social dynamics and response to climate change?

Feedback dynamics between predators and prey

  • Do prey social dynamics change under different ecological conditions?
  • How do prey social responses to predation influence predator foraging behaviour?
  • How do prey social responses to predation influence predator-predator interactions?



Detailed research activities:

We are interested in:

  1. Social decision-making
  2. Behavioural strategies for dealing with environmental uncertainty
  3. Multi-level selection and the evolutionary drivers of sociality
  4. Social interaction rules

The aim of our research is to understand the feedbacks between natural selection, phenotypic population structure, social decision-making, and the emergent behaviours of social groups. In particular, we are interested in the role of social behaviour in mediating selection, and how selection drives evolutionary responses in group-level properties. We combine automated tracking technologies, novel analytical approaches, and simulations to explore both the mechanisms and the ecological implications of group living. We currently investigate these questions in range of study systems and projects:

(i) Social networks and collective behaviour in guineafowl. What processes drive the evolution of social structure and group cohesion? We are establishing new study system using guineafowl to explore the links between social behaviour across temporal scales (from collective movement to dispersal). This research integrates multiple approaches from field observations to high-resolution GPS tracking to develop a better understanding of the social processes that underpin individual and group decision-making. For example, variation in inter-individual relationships can have profound implications for social processes. Guineafowl are a powerful study system for exploring these types of questions as they enable experiments in both captivity and in the wild, and comparisons across species.

(ii) The selective consequences and evolutionary implications of group phenotypic composition. Group-level properties can shape how selection acts across different phenotypes. Linking the costs and benefits of living with particular other types of individuals and the decision rules of individuals when moving between groups can provide insights into the evolution implications of group phenotypic composition. Using modelling we investigate a) what conditions determine the evolution of phenotypic plasticity or different group joining-leaving rules, and b) how indirect genetic effects can shape the structure of animal social networks.

(iii) The ontogeny of social networks and mechanisms underpinning social network position. How do individuals arrive at, and maintain, particular social network positions? Working with Dr. Neeltje Boogert, we use manipulative experiments and novel tracking technologies to study the establishment and maintenance of social network structure in birds. Using zebra finches as a model system, we aim to determine the mechanisms that determine how individuals achieve particular social network positions, and how individuals react when their social environment changes.

(iv) Predator-prey foraging dynamics. What are the foraging strategies of predators who hunt social prey? Although group-living has been widely studied in the context of predation risk, much less attention has been paid to studying what strategies foraging predators have evolved to counter the anti-predator behaviour of prey species. In particular, little is known about how hunting behaviour by predators feeds back on their foraging strategies via the increase in sociality they induce in their prey. Using a range of wild systems, we aim to explore how predators forage, whether they produce selective pressure for particular phenotypes, and how they deal with behavioural responses in their prey.

(v) Dynamic networks and collective decision-making in wild baboons. Using unique whole-group, high-resolution GPS tracking of baboons, we collaborate with Meg Crofoot’s Lab at UC Davis to investigate mechanisms and social processes in complex and heterogeneous groups of primates. In particular, we investigate the movement rules of baboons, how baboon troops make decisions about where and when to go, and how these processes are affected by the environment.

(vi) The social dynamics of cultural behaviour: transmission biases and adaptive social learning strategies in wild great tits. Social learning can facilitate the spread of between-group behavioural variants, forming local traditions. We collaborate with the Prof. Ben Sheldon and Dr. Lucy Aplin at the University of Oxford on a project that is investigating three components that may influence the extent and pattern of diffusion dynamics: social interactions, adaptive use of social learning strategies, and individual variation in social information use. In particular, our role is to a) investigate social learning as a collective process underpinning behavioural plasticity and enabling individuals to adaptively track environmental variability, and b) to develop technologies to interact with individual birds and experimentally evaluate social learning strategies.

(vii) Information use in mixed-species communities. Community structure can profoundly influence the quality and availability of social information, and itself be shaped by information transmission networks. Using mixed-species flocking as a model system, we investigate how ecological factors influence information flows, and how these subsequently impact the social structure of animal communities. In particular, we are interested in how individuals vary in promoting information transfer, either as producers or receivers. This research uses the PIT-tagged populations of wild tits in Wytham Woods (Oxford, UK) and Moggingen (Germany), and a colour-marked population of thornbills and associated species at Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve (Canberra, Australia).