Social behaviour is ubiquitous, but most studies of wild populations treats individuals as if they are independent entities. The central thesis of this application is that our understanding of evolution and ecology is restricted by a failure to consider organisms in their social context. Novel analytical and technical approaches now enable a new generation of studies of organisms in their proper social context, and the quantification of the effects of social interactions. This proposal s central objective is to understand the dependence of a series of ecological processes on the social behaviour of interacting organisms, using replicate populations of model organisms for field population biology, tits (Parus). The research has four major aims: (1) To understand the causes and consequences of variation in social behaviour, using both individual (nodal) and population (network) approaches; (2) to conduct quantitative and molecular genetic analyses of social phenotypes, in particular considering the role of indirect genetic effects on both social and non-social phenotypes; (3) to conduct experimental manipulations, at a range of scales, of the social environment of individuals, and hence test their effect on population structure and dispersal; (4) to combine these approaches to understand how social interactions modulate the processes of dispersal and natural selection, and how they contribute to explaining fitness variance in these species. This combined approach, applied to one of the best studied populations of vertebrates in the world, will lead to major advances in our understanding of the determinants and forces acting on sociality, and in our understanding of the importance of social behaviour in modulating key ecological and evolutionary processes.
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