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Behavioural and Evolutionary Ecology

Interactions and behaviours underpinning evolution and ecology - home

Nicola Marples TCD

photo of andrew jackson


Dr Nicola Marples

Associate Professor

Dr Nicola Marples

Leader of the Behavioural and Evolutionary Ecology Group and member of the Ecological and Evolutionary Networks cluster and the Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research

Research Interests

My research work aims to understand the process of evolution by the study of present day organisms and their interactions. In particular, I am interested in predator-prey systems between birds and insects and how they co-evolve. For instance, adaptations of the colour patterns in the insects alter the decisions by the birds, and different predation strategies played by individual birds alter the selection pressures on the insects. This arms race between predators and prey offers me a perfect setting to investigate co-evolutionary processes taking place as we watch.

On a larger scale, I am interested in the evolution taking place on islands. Once again using bird species as our models, we are building a detailed understanding of the morphological and behavioural changes which are occurring among the birds found across an archipelago of islands in Indonesia. This will allow us to understand the evolutionary pressures on these birds and so gain a better understanding of the evolutionary processes leading to speciation.

I have an on-going interest in the behaviour of badgers and how it differs between populations in Ireland and in the UK. I am interested in the effects which these differences have both on the ecology of the species in each place, and on their action as a vector of bovine tuberculosis.

Other topics covered in my research include studies of the behaviour of a range of captive animals and the most effective ways to house them so as to retain species specific behaviours, and to facilitate reintroduction to their native habitats.


Recent/Selected Publications (» all publications)

Mullen, E.M., MacWhite, T., Maher, P., Kelly, D.J., Good, M., Marples, N.M. In press. Foraging Eurasian badgers Meles meles and the presence of cattle in pastures. Do badgers avoid cattle? Applied Animal Behaviour Science doi

Marples N.M. and Mappes J. 2011 Can the dietary conservatism of predators compensate for positive frequency dependent selection against rare, conspicuous prey? Evolutionary Ecology 25: 737-749. doi

Richards E.L., Thomas R.J., Marples N.M., Snellgrove D.L., Cable J. 2011 The expression of dietary conservatism in solitary and shoaling 3-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus. Behavioral Ecology 22: 738-744. doi

Siddall E.C. and Marples N.M. 2011 Hear no evil: The effect of auditory warning signals on avian innate avoidance, learned avoidance and memory. Current Zoology 57: 197-207

Cleary G.P., Corner L.A.L., O’Keeffe J.& Marples N.M. 2011 Diet of the European badger (Meles meles) in the Republic of Ireland: a comparison of results from an analysis of stomach contents and rectal faeces. Mammalian Biology 76, 470-475. doi

Thomas R.J., King T.A., Forshaw H.E., Marples N.M., Speed M.P., & Cable J. 2010 The response of fish to novel prey: evidence that dietary conservatism is not restricted to birds. Behavioural Ecology Volume: 21   Issue: 4   Pages: 669-675. doi

Lee T, Marples N.M. and Speed, M. 2010 Can dietary conservatism explain the primary evolution of aposematism? Animal Behaviour 79: 63-74. doi

Mappes J., Marples N., and Endler J A. 2005 The Complex business of survival by aposematism. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 598-603


» full list of publications


Current Projects

I have four strands of research currently underway:

  1. The most developed of my research strands is centred on bird food choice and the effects of their choices on the evolution of aposematic defences in insects. The research project currently underway is looking at the plasticity of foraging strategies displayed by birds <link yellow bit to Keith’s page>. We know that birds have an underlying genetic propensity to use specific foraging strategies. This project is investigating how the ecological conditions and physiological state of the individual bird alter its expression of foraging behaviour.
  2. A long term biogeography investigation is being carried out in Indonesia, looking at the evolutionary changes occurring in the bird populations living on islands near Sulawesi. This project is partly funded by Operation Wallacea. The main project in this theme is collecting morphometric and sound data, and DNA samples from various islands in the archipelago near the SE arm of the mainland of Sulawesi, so as to elucidate the relationships between the sister species on each island. A second project is investigating the competitive interactions between three of these species complexes <link to Sean’s page>, aiming to describe the co-evolutionary factors which are driving the observed morphometric changes. Overall these projects will help us understand the process of speciation as it unfolds.
  3. Our badger projects are funded by the Department of Agriculture and Food  and aim to help inform and develop their vaccination programme against TB. One project is investigating how to maximise the efficiency of delivery of an oral vaccine to badgers <link to Dave’s page> while another is looking at the factors which influence the territory recolonisation and distribution of badgers, and the dates that their cubs are born <link to Rosie’s page>. Smaller studies are also underway exploring the factors affecting territory size and use in the medium density populations found in Ireland in comparison to the very high density populations studied in the UK.





Mail: Zoology Building, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
Email:,Tel: + 353 1 896 1063, Fax: + 353 1 6778094

Last updated 5 June 2015 by