My current research is focused on variation in trait evolutionary rates (ERs) across phylogenies. I have started by understanding the tools we have to model ERs, with focus on the contrast between rate-homogenous and heterogeneous models of trait evolution. This work will inform about the accuracy and effectiveness of each approach, and will guide hypotheses development and the biological interpretation of results when applying these models. Further, my aim is to understand what drives ER variation across several trait categories, paying attention to factors such as heritability, spatial distribution, and species interactions. This project ties in perfectly my passion for natural biodiversity with the mathematical & programming skills I developed throughout my years in the Maths-IT College.
I found myself focusing more on behaviour ecology as an undergraduate, with animal personality, sociality and cognition being topmost on my list of interests. My Masters project investigated how individual personality (i.e. repeatable, consistent differences in behaviour between individuals) affects reproductive investment, re-nesting and helping decisions in a cooperative breeding species – the long tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus; project supervised by Prof Ben Hatchwell). I was lucky to use a remarkable dataset on LTTs collected from 1994 to present, while also enjoying the cheers of field work and nesting lotties for two beautiful Spring months. Other highlights of my UG degree are exploring the diversity of sexual signals (subject of my third year dissertation), and the chance to work on zebrafish behaviour and personality in the lab (with Dr Penny Watt).
Chira, A.M. and Thomas, G.H. 2016. The impact of rate heterogeneity on inference of phylogenetic models of trait evolution. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 29, 2502-2518. doi