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Kate Durrant

Lecturer in Behavioural Ecology, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences

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Biography

Nov 2008 to present: Lecturer in Behavioural Ecology, University of Nottingham; 2007-2008: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Sheffield; 2006: Lecturer in Animal Behaviour, University of Maryland; 2005-2006: Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Institution; 2000-2004: PhD in Molecular Ecology, Griffith University; 1998-1999: Honours in Zoology, University of Melbourne; 1995-1997: BSc,University of Melbourne.

Research Summary

My two broad themes of research are 1) host-parasite interactions and 2) sexual selection and sperm competition. My research in host-parasite interactions explores effects on host behaviour and life… read more

Selected Publications

Current Research

My two broad themes of research are 1) host-parasite interactions and 2) sexual selection and sperm competition. My research in host-parasite interactions explores effects on host behaviour and life history, maternal effects and selection, phylogeography of avian malaria and other blood-borne parasites, the effect of parasites on endangered species, and broad-scale ecological relationships between hosts, parasites and vectors. My research into sexual selection, especially as seen through the theoretical lens of sperm competition, examines mating systems and extra-pair copulations in birds, physiological and morphological consequences of sperm competition, and sperm competition in the insects.

1. The role of parasites and disease in selection and adaptation of hosts

Parasites and disease can shape the life histories of their hosts by forcing the reallocation of limited resources from growth and reproduction to immune defence. Infected hosts can inform the local host community of their infection status via a number of largely unexplored cues. Receivers of these cues can then make adjustments to their own defences dependent on the risk of infection within the community. This can include transgenerational effects where mothers adaptively make changes to the immune function of their offspring to cope with the perceived risk of disease in the local community. The interplay between the social cues of infection from hosts and receiver immunological defence can change with different population structures and densities. There is also the possibility of parasites manipulating the cues the infected hosts emit in order to facilitate the parasites own reproduction and survival. I am interested in exploring all these facets using various experimental approaches.

Plasmodium relictum infecting the red blood cells of its avian host (L), Babesia microti infecting cells of its mammalian host (R)

Plasmodium relictum infecting the red blood cells of its avian host (L), Babesia microti infecting cells of its mammalian host (R).

2. Sperm competition in birds and insects

Sperm competition occurs when the gametes from two males compete to fertilise the same ovum. The point where one male's sperm beats another's to fertilisation is where selection occurs in a very real way. What dictates which sperm will be the victor? There are ways to compete before and after copulation, behaviours such as stimulating the female to eject the sperm of rival males (seen in birds) or scraping out the ejaculates of previous males using a specially modified 'penis scoop' (seen in insects) are some ways of ensuring victory, or a male can compete via the contents of his ejaculate, by having the longest, fastest or most numerous sperm. Investigations into sperm competition benefit from comparative approaches to questions about the evolution of sperm shape and the cost of producing sperm. Birds and insects, in their wide variety of forms, provide ideal subjects to explore the relationships between mating system, mate choice, male-female conflict and sperm morphology and production. Sperm is traditionally thought of to be a 'cheap' gamete to produce compared to the ova, but this view is starting to be challenged. Where post-copulatory sexual selection is relaxed, the cost of sperm production may also be lowered, by changing the morphology and/or the chemical composition of spermatozoa. I explore these topics by comparing species and by looking intensely at the more unusual species individually.

Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) fledgling being sampled for blood

Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) fledgling being sampled for blood.

School of Life Sciences

University of Nottingham
Medical School
Queen's Medical Centre
Nottingham NG7 2UH

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