Partner Profile

Behavioural & Physiology Ecology Group, University of Groningen

Areas of Expertise

The key focus of my research is to unravel how the natural and social environment and the genetic architecture of individuals shape their life and behaviour and determine their fitness, as well as understanding population dynamics and persistence of a species. For this we use longitudinal studies on free-living animals, including humans, molecular techniques and mathematical tools.

Recently, I broadened my research to investigate physiological aspects of the social environment and its relation to fitness traits such as resistance to diseases. I study the inheritance of biological ageing and how parental state influences offspring ageing/senescence and, in turn, population fitness and adaptive potential. I integrate approaches from cell biology and quantitative genetics into an ecological setting to investigate the strength and impact of trans-generational factors on biological ageing phenotypes – and their consequences for organismal ageing and fitness in the wild. The results will contribute significantly to understanding the role of parental age on offspring fitness, with potential significance for human reproductive strategies and for animal husbandry in agriculture and conservation biology.

The Behavioural & Physiological Ecology group endeavours to understand the behaviour of animals in their natural environment. We integrate different approaches, using empirical as well as theoretical methods, to address questions on both functions and mechanisms of behaviour from the molecular to the population level. The Komdeur lab aims to understand the evolution of social behaviour and how variation in social behaviour affects population dynamics. A social system is defined by how individuals in a population interact and includes all relationships of a sexual, agonistic and/or aid-related nature. All group-dwelling animals are influenced by their social environment through processes of co-operation and learning on the one hand and conflict and social stress on the other. Thus, sociality can be a great advantage, especially in fast-changing environments, as individuals can benefit from strategies learned and adaptations gained from their group members (parents, siblings or unrelated individuals). It may, however, also be challenging when individuals compete for limited resources, or when the behaviour of offspring is shaped by the previous generation and is adapted to environmental conditions that may no longer be present. Consequently, individuals must constantly balance the costs and benefits of social life, and we aim to unravel how and under what circumstances social behaviour is shaped by shifts in this balance.

In empirical studies, we aim to understand how the social and physical environment of individuals and, in particular, how variations in social interactions between individuals affect their phenotypes and behaviours, as well as the resulting consequences for individual fitness, i.e. the number of offspring an individual produces. We also aim to identify the genes important for adaptation and contemporary fitness in individuals and populations. Here, we focus on natural systems for which we have comprehensive genetic parentage relationships and long-term data. In theoretical studies, we aspire to unravel the importance of changing (social) environments in natural systems. This will have direct applications for evolutionary studies and lead to an understanding of how the interplay between environmental and social factors influences the evolution of phenotypes in field settings.

Our powerful combination of (experimental) field studies, molecular ecology, immunology, endocrinology, theoretical modelling and quantitative genetics will provide novel insights into social evolution which can also be implemented in conservation programmes.

Recent Publications

Research Interests
  • Dynamics of parental behaviour;
  • Early-life environment, social stress and individual behaviour;
  • Physiology of life histories and senescence;
  • Conserving threatened species; and
  • Epigenetic mutations, individual fitness and environmental change.