I am an early career evolutionary biologist with broad interests in how individuals interact with one another and their environment, and how social interactions may contribute to evolution and shape communities over multiple scales in vertebrate systems. My work is both field and laboratory-based, integrating aspects of behavioural and evolutionary ecology with comparative physiology; and employing experimental, comparative, and observational approaches, as well as molecular techniques, to test key hypotheses and to elucidate the mechanistic basis of processes observed in the field. My research has given me experience of a range of taxa including birds, mammals, and reptiles, and of a variety of ecosystems.
An updated copy of my CV can be accessed kirsty macleod cv 2019.
My research program focuses on the adaptive significance and evolutionary outcomes of social interactions, in particular the associations between parents and their offspring. My past and current work has three major themes. First, what is the role of the environment in generating variation in parental traits and investment in offspring? Second, what are the evolutionary consequences of such variation? And, third, what are the physiological mechanisms underlying maternal effects and their consequences?
Specific areas of current interest:
1. Transgenerational consequences of gestational stress
My current and recent work investigates how physiological stress during gestation influences offspring morphology, behaviour, and survival. At Penn State, my work focused on how the stress of living with invasive fire ants, a novel predator, influences maternal and offspring behaviour, and offspring survival in matched and mismatched environments, in the Eastern fence lizard. Now I am expanding on these questions to further investigate the context-dependence of maternal stress outcomes – for example, are offspring buffered from these effects in a social context? This work will form part of my Marie Curie Action fellowship.
2. Cooperative breeding and maternal investment
My PhD investigated allonursing, the nursing by a female of pups that are not her own. This is seen in a variety of species throughout the animal kingdom – and in the meerkat (left). Using over 15 years of long term data, I looked at what influences the decision to allolactate, how much females invest, how investment in allolactation affects a female’s investment in other cooperative behaviours, and what costs and benefits are associated with this behaviour.
I am now interested in how investment from helpers influences investment by parents (see 3). I investigated how social group composition influences maternal investment decisions in the red-winged fairy wren, working with Lyanne Brouwer.
3. Sex allocation
Theory predicts that when the reproductive value of either sons or daughters is more positively affected by maternal or environmental traits, mothers would be expected to adjust the sex ratio of their offspring to maximize returns to their own fitness. I have tested this theory by investigating sex ratio bias in response to maternal dominance in meerkats, and am currently looking at variation in sex allocation according to dietary components in the hihi.
4. Plasticity in maternal investment
The mother in nature is a symbol of a selfless giver, but in reality there is striking variation in how much mothers actually invest in their offspring (via pre-birth nourishment or provisioning, and post-birth/ hatching care). Maternal resources are finite, and so investment in current offspring must be traded off against investment in potential future offspring. What factors influence this trade off?
I am investigated how supplemental feeding of the endangered New Zealand hihi (right) influences patterns of hatching synchrony and offspring growth. This will help to determine how mothers use cues about the environment to fine-tune their reproductive decisions.