School of Life Sciences
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Kate Durrant

Associate Professor 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.

Teaching Summary

I teach many areas of evolutionary theory, animal behaviour and behavioural ecology. I am privileged to lead one of our international field courses. I teach at all levels of undergraduate studies and… read more

Research Summary

As a researcher I am broadly interested in sexual selection: Darwin's second great idea. What makes one individual a successful mate that passes their genes on where another may fail? My research,… read more

Selected Publications

I teach many areas of evolutionary theory, animal behaviour and behavioural ecology. I am privileged to lead one of our international field courses. I teach at all levels of undergraduate studies and supervise MRes and PhD postgraduate students. I am interested in the progress of women in STEMM and lead the Women in Science section for our MSci students taking the relevant module.

Modules I lead:

LIFE1031 Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour

LIFE2060 Animal Behaviour and Physiology

LIFE2011 Behavioural Ecology Field Course

LIFE 3013 Evolution and Behaviour

I am also interested in improving student learning through peer assessment, and conduct research on this topic. I am a champion and leader of academic staff development through training in teaching techniques. I am keen on enabling other academics, as well as myself, to pursue innovative approaches in teaching and learning in a scientific manner, so as to build up an evidence base of what works in teaching at university level in the modern world and what should be discarded.

Current Research

As a researcher I am broadly interested in sexual selection: Darwin's second great idea. What makes one individual a successful mate that passes their genes on where another may fail? My research, especially as seen through the theoretical lens of sperm competition, examines the physiological, morphological and behavioural consequences of sexual selection mainly in insects and birds. I work in the field and the lab, both observationally and experimentally, on non-model organisms that provide interesting opportunities and challenges.

Sperm competition

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 post-copulation via the contents of his ejaculate, for example, 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 or 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 inaccurate. 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. Heavy investment in controlling access to females in the first place, such as through aggression and weaponry directed at rival males can reduce the risk of post-copulatory competition occurring. I explore these topics by comparing species and by looking intensely at the more unusual species, like giant hissing cockroaches, individually.

Reproductive ecology

For many years I have been collecting data on wild populations of European nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus. These insectivorous, ground-nesting birds are brief summer visitors to the UK, where they breed in heath and clear-fells. Active at dusk and dawn; they are of conservation concern, requiring management and protection as much as understanding. I study the territoriality and reproductive success of the males, as well as the nesting behaviour and mate choice of the females. Alongside this I seek to understand their general behaviour as it relates to their conservation, from habitat use to disturbance effects to using their calls for surveying. I share practical advice on conservation with land managers and ecologists. By doing this I can answer both deep-seated evolutionary questions alongside the practical one of protecting this cryptic little bird.

School of Life Sciences

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

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