Dr Nick Royle
Senior Lecturer in Behavioural Ecology


Research interests

I am interested in a variety of related topics within behavioural ecology including parental care, reproductive conflicts of interest, early and social environmental effects (particularly on the expression of secondary sexual traits), social networks, signalling and mate choice, consistency of behaviour (‘personality’), and the potential role of oxidative stress in mediating some of these effects.

Research projects

Nutritional environmental effects on parental care

NERC DTA studentship (2010-2013)
Parental effects occur whenever the expression of the phenotype of an individual is affected by the phenotype or environment provided by its parents. Consequently parental effects are dynamic components in the process of development that enables evolution through natural selection, through the reliable transferral of developmental resources needed by offspring. Adaptive parental effects depend particularly upon reliable cues that predict the offspring environment, and the selection pressures acting on parents and offspring. This project is assessing the downstream effects on offspring of variation in the level and predictability of the nutritional environment experienced at two key stages of development on the expression of adult traits in a model study organism, Nicrophorus vespilloides burying beetles.

  • PI: Nick Royle
  • Co-I: Allen Moore
  • Paul Hopwood is the student

The evolution of parental care roles

NERC standard grant to Allen Moore (2010-2013)
This project is examining how genetic architecture influences the direction of evolution and differences between the sexes in parental care, using Nicrophorus vespilloides as a model species. This work will help determine how sex roles evolve.

  • PI: Allen Moore
  • Co-I: Nick Royle
  • Megan Head is the PDRA

Costs of reproduction and the mechanistic basis of ageing in crickets

NERC DTA studentship (2008-2011)
This project is examining the effect of the availability of specific nutrients on sex differences in reproductive effort, cellular damage by reactive oxygen species (such as free-radicals and oxidants) and rates of ageing in the native Australian field cricket, Teleogryllus commodus. The project involves fieldwork in Australia in addition to controlled experiments in the laboratory.

  • PI: John Hunt
  • Co-I: Nick Royle
  • Ruth Archer is the student

Costs and consequences of trade-offs during growth in pheasants

NERC CASE studentship (2007-2010)
Variation in resource availability leads to resource allocation trade-offs during growth and development, and these may be particularly acute in species with strongly sexually-selected (carotenoid-based) traits. This project has investigated the role that antioxidants play in modulating resource allocation trade-offs during growth and development, and hence how they determine adult phenotypic characteristics.
CASE partner: The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (Andrew Hoodless)

  • PI: Nick Royle
  • Co-I: Jon Blount
  • Josie Orledge is the student

Recent research projects

Costs and consequences of the structured family

NERC new investigator grant 2007-2008 (PI)
We examined the cost basis of trade-offs during growth through the manipulation of antioxidant availability and rearing environment, and the subsequent measurement of oxidative stress, in nestling red-winged blackbirds Agelaius phoeniceus. Individuals supplemented with dietary antioxidants allocated these extra resources to increasing growth rate rather than to maintenance (reducing oxidative damage). These novel results support the idea that the costs of rapid growth are mediated via a trade-off between growth and oxidative damage and highlight the importance of consideration of physiological costs in the evolution of life-history trade-offs. We also examined patterns of egg antioxidant deposition in an avian host-parasite system (red-winged blackbirds and their parasites, brown-headed cowbirds). We found evidence that cowbirds preferentially allocated alpha-tocopherol to their eggs, which is one of the most potent dietary-derived antioxidants and has positive effects on growth, and that the amount of alpha-tocopherol in cowbird eggs was closely correlated with that of the alpha-tocopherol content of their hosts. In contrast, cowbirds deposited low amounts of carotenoids and retinol, and there was no relationship between concentration of these antioxidants in cowbird and red-winged blackbird eggs. Maggie Hall was the PDRA.

Costs, consequences and context-dependency of intra-familial conflict

NERC postdoctoral fellowship (2005-2008)
The consequences of intra-familial conflicts can be pervasive, with important effects on the evolution and diversity of a range of life-history traits, such as growth rates, begging behaviour, clutch size and sexual attractiveness as adults. However, although the importance of intra-familial conflicts on growth, development and fitness are increasingly being recognised, very little is known about the behavioural mechanisms that underpin such conflicts, or the nature of the relationships between availability of environmental resources, delivery of and conflict over these resources, and their costs and consequences for fitness. This project aimed to disentangle and quantify these effects in zebra finches Taeniopygia guttata.

Signals of genetic quality in a genetically heritable social environment

NERC standard grant 2005-2008 (Co-PI)
In this study, we examined the role that competitive interactions between individuals during development played in producing variation in condition and, thereby, producing variation in condition dependent traits that are the target of mate choice. Using the stalk-eyed fly, Cyrtodiopsis dalmani as a model system, we utilized a statistical genetic model to estimate the relative importance of social interactions in producing genetic variation in male eye-span, which is the target of female preference and which has been shown to have condition dependent expression.
The project was in collaboration with Jason Wolf at the University Manchester (now at the University of Bath) and Jerry Wilkinson at the University of Maryland, USA. Ed Harris was the PDRA (now at Manchester Metropolitan University).

Research networks

  • Stuart Bearhop (University of Exeter)
  • Jon Blount (University of Exeter)
  • Darren Croft (University of Exeter, Department of Psychology)
  • Sasha Dall (University of Exeter)
  • Scott Forbes (University of Winnipeg, Canada)
  • Philipp Heeb (University of Toulouse)
  • Andrew Hoodless (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust)
  • John Hunt (University of Exeter)
  • Mathias Kölliker (University of Basel)
  • Allen Moore (University of Exeter)
  • Tom Pike (University of Lincoln)
  • Heinz Richner (University of Bern)
  • Colin Selman (University of Aberdeen)
  • Jason Wolf (University of Bath)
  • Andy Young (University of Exeter)

Research grants

  • 2009 NERC
    "Food, sex and death"
  • 2007 NERC
    "Costs and consequences of the structured family"
  • 2005 NERC
    "Signals of genetic quality in a genetically heritable social environment"
  • 2005 NERC
    "Costs, consequences and context-dependency of intrafamilial conflict"

Back | Top of page | Refresh page