Cumbrian ecologist takes leading role at U.S. animal behaviour conference

Cumbrian ecologist takes leading role at U.S. animal behaviour conference 
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A University of Cumbria ecologist has just returned from a prestigious conference held in the U.S.

Dr Davina Hill attended the International Society for Behavioral Ecology gathering held in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she was invited to chair a session on animals’ social behaviour.

“It was an honour to have the opportunity to speak and play an active part in an event which draws experts from across the globe,” Dr Hill, a zoology lecturer at the University of Cumbria, said. “There was a real community spirit with plenty of opportunities for networking and discussion.”  The meeting was attended by 569 researchers and organised by the University of Minnesota.

The Cumbrian academic is an expert on alternative reproductive tactics and social organisation, which she has studied in the African striped mouse since 2010. In South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, most female striped mice are group-living, occupying groups of around 2-4 close female relatives, one breeding male and their shared offspring, all of which contribute to care of the next generation.

Dr Hill’s research, carried out in collaboration with Dr Carsten Schradin at the University of Strasbourg and Prof Neville Pillay at the University of the Witwatersrand, has shown that under certain circumstances, heavier females and those with low levels of the stress hormone corticosterone will leave the group and become solitary-living, rearing their offspring alone. The talk she presented at the conference, entitled ‘Corticosterone level predicts female social tactic in African striped mice’, showed using 8 years of field data that corticosterone levels were lower in solitary than group-living females even before they left the group, but testosterone levels did not change.

Dr Hill aims to publish the findings of her research examining the lifestyle of this fascinating creature.

“This work is important to help develop an understanding of the social system of not only this mammal but of other creatures too,” Davina said.

Mouse, Two mice in the undergrowth