I am interested broadly in parental investment in offspring: how levels of investment may alter over time and in response to other variables, and how maternal investment may trade off with investment from other individuals – for example, from helpers or partners. I have and continue to explore these questions in a range of taxa.
An updated copy of my CV can be accessed here: kirsty macleod CV.
Specific areas of current interest:
1. Maternal predator stress, and effects on offspring behaviour and survival
I am currently investigating 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. I am undertaking this work as part of an NSF grant to Michael Sheriff and Tracy Langkilde.
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 am investigating 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?
Currently, I am investigating 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.
Here is a wordle generated from my paper abstracts!