Dr Emma Vitikainen with a clan of banded mongoose.
Dr Emma Vitikainen
A fascinating question in evolutionary biology is how and why individuals of social species cooperate. Broadly, my work focuses on how social environment affects individual behaviour and health, and how these effects feed back to social dynamics and evolution of sociality.
There is extensive variation in the rates at which individuals age, and a key challenge is to understand what drives these differences, and why some individuals remain healthy until old age. Life-history theory predicts trade-offs between reproduction, growth and maintenance. These effects may be more complex in cooperatively breeding species, where costs of reproduction can be shared among the helpers in the group, and yet competition over breeding may be costly.
My current project is looking at social influences on ageing in the cooperatively breeding banded mongoose (Mungos mungo). I am particularly interested in how early-life environment and help given to and received from other group members affects life history allocation, health and ageing, and what the proximate role of oxidative stress is in mediating life-history trade-offs.
For my phD I studied the effects of inbreeding in a wild population of the ant Formica exsecta. My other current interests include evolution of kin recognition mechanisms, and cuticular hydrocarbons as mediators of kin recognition and aggression in ants.
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