Inter- and intraspecific variation in behaviour and ecology

Fairy-wrens (genus Malurus) are an iconic model system in evolutionary ecology and one of the best-studied bird genera. The detailed long-term data on ten species from multiple populations within a single genus makes this an ideal system to investigate inter- and intraspecific variation in ecology and behaviour, without the problems encountered by many other systems where associations might be confounded by phylogeny. In a large scale collaboration with researchers from Australia, Europe and the USA we have shown that the use of large-scale oceanic climate indices often results in strong overestimation of the amount of climate sensitivity and spurious patterns as a result of geographic gradients (Ecography 2013). Furthermore, we have completed the world’s first comprehensive intrageneric test of many of the key ecological hypotheses concerning why individuals, populations and closely related species vary in their degree of promiscuity (Mol Ecol 2017) and tested the longstanding idea that conspicuous plumage increases predation risk (Am Nat 2019).

drawings by Peter Marsack