Dr Neeltje Boogert
Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow
Daphne du Maurier 3063
Daphne du Maurier Building, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK
Originally from the Netherlands (which explains my unpronounceable name!), I obtained my B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees at Utrecht University (2000-2005). For my M.Sc. thesis research I investigated scent mark communication in stingless bees in Costa Rica and the spread of foraging information through social networks in starlings. The latter work was conducted with Dr. Simon Reader (now at McGill) and Prof. Kevin Laland (University of St. Andrews). After graduating I moved from Scotland to Canada to do a Ph.D. with Prof. Louis Lefebvre at McGill University (2005-2010). There I started research on another form of social learning, namely vocal learning, in zebra finches (with Prof. Luc-Alain Giraldeau, UQAM) and song sparrows (with Dr. Rindy Anderson, Prof. Steve Nowicki (Duke University) and Prof. Bill Searcy (University of Miami)). I discovered that more complex singers are better problem solvers, but are not generally ‘smarter’ than the singers of simpler songs. In 2011 I moved back to St. Andrews to conduct further studies on starling social networks with Prof. Laland and Dr. Will Hoppitt. In 2012 I obtained a Rubicon fellowship from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to study the effects of developmental stress on later social behaviour in quail and zebra finches with Dr. Karen Spencer (University of St. Andrews). In 2015 I was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship to study the developmental drivers of avian social network positions. I was briefly based at Oxford University’s Edward Grey Institute before moving the fellowship here.
Broad research specialisms
I am generally interested in the evolution and ecology of cognition and social behaviour. Thus far I have studied quite a diverse array of topics, ranging from insect communication to bird song learning and mate choice for cognitive traits, the existence of a "general cognitive ability", to social learning and the spread of information through animal groups. I am currently focussing on how developmental factors affect (social) information use, social network positions and proxies of fitness, using both wild and captive birds as my model systems. I am also investigating how group composition affects cognitive performance and fitness proxies in fish. I greatly enjoy collaborative research projects with colleagues at the University of Cambridge Zoology Department, the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Oxford Edward Grey Institute, and am always open to new collaborations.
2011: Ph.D. Biology, McGill University, Canada
2005: M.Sc. Animal Behaviour, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
2003: B.Sc. Biology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
2016 - current: Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Exeter
2016: 8-month maternity leave
2015 – 2016: Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Oxford
2012 – 2015: NWO Rubicon Research Fellow, University of St. Andrews
2013: 8-month maternity leave
2011 – 2012: Post-doctoral Research Associate, University of St. Andrews
Research group links
One of my main research aims is to understand how early-life conditions shape later social behaviour and cognitive traits. Stress exposure early in life is often assumed to have inevitable negative consequences. However, individuals may have the phenotypic flexibility to change their behavioural strategies in an adaptive way. I am investigating whether and when this is the case, and what the fitness consequences might be across generations, in captive zebra finches. I also aim to take these questions into the wild and study how developmental conditions shape social behaviour in wild great tits in the Wytham Woods with Prof. Ben Sheldon and in wild jackdaws, as part of the Cornish jackdaw project with Dr. Alex Thornton.
Developmental drivers of avian social networks
Although social networks are known to shape important population-level processes such as the spread of information and disease, we still know very little about the factors that drive social network structure. My aim is to investigate how early-life conditions shape later social phenotypes and social network positions. To achieve this, I experimentally manipulate early-life conditions, for example by exposing chicks to elevated levels of stress hormones. I then quantify the effects on later social behaviour, as well as on sexually selected and cognitive traits, both within and across generations. Our previous work on captive zebra finches suggests that early-life stress can switch social learning as well as song learning strategies in captivity. The next step is to investigate these processes in the wild.
The effects of personality and group composition on problem solving
It is now well-established that individuals exhibit consistent behavioural differences across ecological contexts, also known as “personality traits”. These personality traits are often quantified in social isolation, but most animals engage in social interactions on a daily basis. How does an individual’s social environment shape the development and expression of its personality traits? And is there such a thing as an ‘optimal’ social environment for tackling ecologically relevant problems? If so, can individuals actively seek out such group memberships, or is this a passive assortment process? I am tackling these and other questions on wild-caught three-spine sticklebacks as a visiting Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Zoology Department.
For all publications, please see my Google Scholar Profile.
Please contact me for any PDFs.
Farine, D.R.*, Spencer, K.A. & Boogert, N.J.* Early-life stress triggers juveniles to switch social learning strategies. Current Biology (2015) 25: 2184-2188. *equal contributors
Boogert, N.J.*, Farine, D.R.* & Spencer, K.A. Developmental stress predicts social network position. Biology Letters (2014) 10: 20140561. *equal contributors
Boogert, N.J., Nightingale, G.F., Hoppitt, W. & Laland, K.N. Perching but not foraging networks predict the spread of novel foraging skills in starlings. Behavioural Processes (2014) 109: 135-144.
Templeton, C.N., Laland, K.N. & Boogert, N.J. Does song complexity correlate with problem-solving performance in flocks of zebra finches? Animal Behaviour (2014) 92: 63-71.
Boogert, N.J., Zimmer, C. & Spencer, K.A. Pre-natal and post-natal stress affect social learning strategies, but in opposite directions. Biology Letters (2013) 9: 20121088.
Boogert, N.J., Anderson, R.C., Peters, S., Searcy, W.A. & Nowicki, S. Song repertoire size in male song sparrows correlates with detour reaching, but not with other cognitive measures. Animal Behaviour (2011) 81: 1209-1216.
Boogert, N.J., Fawcett, T.W. & Lefebvre, L. Mate choice for cognitive traits: a review of the evidence in non-human vertebrates. Behavioral Ecology (2011) 22: 447-459.
2015 – 2021: Royal Society: Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship
[2015 – 2018: NWO, The Netherlands: Veni Fellowship (declined)]
[2015 – 2017: University of Oxford, EGI: Research Fellowship (declined)]
2014 – 2015: Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour: Research Grant
2012 – 2015: NWO, The Netherlands: Rubicon Early Career Fellowship
2008 – 2010: McGill University, Canada: Dr. Milton Leong Fellowship
2005 – 2008: McGill University, Canada: Dr. Richard H. Tomlinson Fellowship
2005 – 2006: Netherlands Talented Students Program: Fellowship
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
Centre for Ecology & Conservation Early Career Researcher Representative
Editorial Board Member for Biology Letters
Consulting Editor for Animal Behaviour
Supervision / Group
- Ana Angela Romero Haro