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Life History and Functional Ecology

The general framework for our research is how investment into reproduction and survival forms different life history strategies. Individuals have to make decisions about how to allocate limited resources, such as energy and time, between different actions, as these resources invested in reproduction can not at the same time be invested in survival. Such trade-offs are the corner-stone of life history theory. To understand how evolution has formed such strategies, we are interested in the role of physiological adaptations and constraints.

Human impact can of course affect these trade-offs and we are therefore also interested in how human activites and urbanisation might affect the life-history trade-offs.

Most of our work is based on field experiments performed in the wild with principal study organisms being nest box breeding birds. However, we also work with captive zebra finches. Life history strategies are chosen by individuals as to maximize life-time reproductive success. This will be achieved by optimal trade-offs e.g. how much effort should be invested in reproduction vs. survival or is it better to produce many small or a few large offspring. Such trade-offs are dependent on functional adaptations as well as constraints.

Blue tit

Functional mechanisms, for example related to energy turnover rates, resistance to infections and parasites and the action of hormones, interact with the environment to form individually optimized life history strategies. Thus, the internal state of the individual will limit the possible strategies open for that individual.

Nesting box

Furthermore, parasite resistance and hormones may be transferred to the young from their mother through the egg, thereby influencing the phenotype of the next generation. A mother’s ability to provide their young with a good start in life is probably also dependent on her quality and condition, in turn dependent on physiological as well as ecological constraints.

Thus, studies of ultimate aspects related to the evolution of life histories are combined with proximate aspects of the mechanisms that set the limit to this evolution.

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Contact information

Jan-Åke Nilsson
Evolutionary ecology

Telephone: +46 46-222 45 69
E-mail: Jan-Ake [dot] Nilsson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se