Benjamin Murphy

BSc (Hons), U.Edinburgh;
MSc, U.Exeter

Ben is from Frankfurt, Germany but has spent considerable time in the United Kingdom and France. As a school student he committed to an assistant zoo-keeper role where he quickly realised that he really enjoyed the idea of research. Following this thread, he completed his undergraduate degree and honours research project, at the University of Edinburgh, evaluating whether different rodent malaria genotypes had differing infection dynamics in hosts and vectors. While undoubtedly interesting, Ben yearned for more field-based research involving analysis of behavioural strategies. Working towards this goal, he undertook a Masters in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Exeter (with Professor Andy Russell and Dr. Alexis Chaine) where he re-discovered his passion for behavioural ecology. A field course in Kenya opened his eyes to the world of ornithology and he hasn’t looked back. As a result Ben's Masters project, based in the Pyrenées, France, studied parental investment decisions in Blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) by analysing whether blue tits adaptively modify behavioural provisioning strategies due to presence of specific predators and whether ecological stresses at higher altitudes further influence these strategies.

After the Masters, Ben undertook three months of volunteering with Principal investigator Dr Alexis Chaine and postdoc Dr Maxime Cauchoix at the CNRS (in Moulis, France). In parallel, he worked in the research station’s aviary collaborating with PhD student Ethan Hermer (University of Ottawa) in conducting experiments concerning population differences in spatial learning and proactive interference in great tits (Parus major). Following this, Ben was employed at the CNRS as a Field-site-leader by Dr. Chaine for the entirety of the 2018 breeding season (February – July) focusing on parental plasticity of great and blue tits breeding across an altitudinal gradient.

Ben has now started a PhD, under the supervision of Dr. Susan Cunningham and Dr. Tom Flower within the Hot Birds team. He will be evaluating how parental Fork-tailed drongos (Dicrurus adsimilis) mitigate the costs of breeding at hot temperatures in the arid Kalahari. With this project, he wishes to investigate in further detail foraging, parental care and nest outcomes by drongos in the face of challenging thermal conditions. This will enable a better understand of how drongos, and birds more generally, might maintain constant fledging mass despite high air temperatures, whether there are compensatory behaviours by parents (e.g. changes in shading behaviour at the nest or timing of foraging and provisioning into pre-dawn and post-dusk hours) and if these carry their own costs for parental or offspring fitness, or overall nest success. Working with Fork-tailed drongos, well-known for their kleptoparasitism of meerkats, will develop our understanding of potential impacts of increasing temperatures within arid-environments.


Taking the heat: how do parent birds mitigate costs of breeding at high temperatures?  Supervisors: Susan Cunningham, Thomas Flower.


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