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Ecology and Conservation

Dr Faye Thompson

Dr Faye Thompson

NERC Independent Research Fellow

 Stella Turk Building B046-039


University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, TR10 9FE


In nature, conflict and cooperation arise at every level of biological complexity, among teams of genes, cells and individuals. Using experiments and theoretical modelling, I seek to explain the evolution of these patterns, focusing on the conflicts inherent in the formation and dynamics of cooperative animal societies. I test how conflict arises and is resolved in social groups, and the impact of aggressive intergroup interactions on cooperative behaviour and life history. My overall aim is to establish the general rules that shape aggression and social behaviour in animal societies, and to advance our understanding of evolutionary transitions to cooperation.


2017 PhD Biological Sciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus
2011 MSc Conservation and Biodiversity, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus
2007 BSc (Hons) Actuarial Science, City University London


2021 - present NERC Independent Research Fellow, University of Exeter: The evolution of war and peace in animal societies
2018 - 2021 Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter: The ecology and evolution of intergroup conflict in animal societies
2017 - 2018 Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter: Transgenerational costs of reproduction and the evolution of life histories
2016 - 2017 Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Exeter: Early life influences on the development of cooperation in wild mammals


Research group links

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Research interests

My research investigates how conflict arises and is resolved in cooperative species using a combination of field and lab-based studies, and theoretical modelling. My interests include:

  • The evolution and maintenance of intergroup cooperation.
  • The causes and consequences of intergroup conflict.
  • Group identity, recognition and discrimination.
  • Aggression and affiliation in animal groups.

Research projects

The evolution of war and peace in animal societies

Explaining the forces that drive the emergence of cooperation, and the suppression or resolution of conflict, is a fundamental goal of evolutionary biology. Considerable effort over the past few decades has been invested in understanding cooperation between individuals, despite selection for selfishness and self-interest. Nature also shows that cooperation and integration between distinct groups is possible, but little is understood, empirically or theoretically, about what drives groups to interact, the factors that promote peace, and those that fuel conflict.

For my current NERC Independent Research Fellowship, I use a model termite system to uncover the factors that drive the evolution of war and peace. The dampwood termite, Zootermopsis angusticollis, is an ideal species to do this because colonies exhibit a full spectrum of intergroup relations, from lethal combat to peaceful fusion. I use a combination of lab experiments, fieldwork and theory to test the evolutionary causes of intergroup conflict and cooperation, investigate the consequences of intergroup interactions for individuals and groups, and develop an evolutionary framework to explain patterns of war and peace in a range of empirical systems.

Current work with undergraduate, masters and PhD students investigates the role of the gut microbiome in cooperation between colonies, the effect of wealth and wealth inequality on intergroup interactions, mechanisms of colony recognition and caste discrimination, and the effect of intergroup conflict on social cohesion.

The ecology and evolution of intergroup conflict in banded mongooses

A major theory to explain the evolution of cooperation is that sufficiently intense conflict between groups can promote cooperation and altruism within them. In humans, cooperation may have arisen as a consequence of intense warfare among our prehistoric ancestors, a pattern also proposed to explain cooperation in animal societies as diverse as ants and chimpanzees.

With Professor Michael Cant, we investigate the causes, dynamics and consequences of intergroup conflict in banded mongooses to establish general principles about how intergroup conflict shapes the evolution of animal societies. Banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) are a cooperatively breeding species that lives in groups of around 20 adults, plus offspring. They exhibit intense forms of cooperation but also conspicuous and highly aggressive conflict. Neighbouring groups compete over food, territory and mates, and frequently engage in lethal fights. In fact, levels of mortality from intergroup conflict are comparable to that of chimpanzees and hunter-gatherer humans. On the Banded Mongoose Research Project, we work on a wild population of banded mongooses in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda that has been studied continuously since 1995. We aim to explain why intergroup conflict varies so much in frequency and intensity and how conflict shapes life history and fitness in natural populations.

Research networks

Angus Buckling, University of Exeter
Michael Cant, University of Exeter
Darren Croft, University of Exeter
Patrick Green, University of California Santa Barbara
Jeremy Field, University of Exeter
Daniel Franks, University of York
Xavier Harrison, University of Exeter
Rufus Johnstone, University of Cambridge
Harry Marshall, RSPB
Hazel Nichols, Swansea University
Emma Vitikainen, University of Helsinki
Andrew Young, University of Exeter

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Journal articles

Nichols HJ, Arbuckle K, Sanderson JL, Vitikainen EIK, Marshall HH, Cant M, Wells D (In Press). A double pedigree reveals genetic but not cultural inheritance of cooperative personalities in wild banded mongooses. Ecology Letters
Marshall H, Johnstone R, Thompson F, Nichols H, Wells D, Joe H, Kalema-Zikusoka G, Sanderson J, Vitikainen E, Blount J, et al (In Press). A veil of ignorance can promote fairness in a mammal society. Nature Communications
Sheppard CE, Inger R, Macdonald R, Barker S, Jackson A, Thompson F, Vitikainen E, Cant MA, Marshall H (In Press). Intragroup competition predicts individual foraging specialisation in a group-living mammal. Ecology Letters
Preston B, Thompson FJ, Ellis S, Kyambulima S, Croft D, Cant M (In Press). Network-level consequences of outgroup threats in banded mongooses: grooming and aggression between the sexes. Journal of Animal Ecology
Inzani E, Marshall H, Thompson F, Kalema-Zikusoka G, Cant M, Vitikainen E (In Press). Spontaneous abortion as a response to reproductive conflict in the banded mongoose. Biology Letters
Blount J (In Press). Untangling the oxidative cost of reproduction: an analysis in wild banded mongooses. Ecology and Evolution
Shelafoe C, Thompson FJ, Mwanguhya F, Kyabulima S, Businge R, Mwesige K, Sanderson JL, Cant MA, Marshall HH, Vitikainen EIK, et al (2023). Caregiver’s cognitive traits are associated with pup fitness in a cooperatively breeding mammal. Scientific Reports, 13(1). Abstract.
Hudson DW, Hodgson DJ, Cant MA, Thompson FJ, Delahay R, McDonald RA, McKinley TJ (2023). Importance sampling and Bayesian model comparison in ecology and evolution. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 14(12), 2994-3006. Abstract.
Vitikainen EIK, Meniri M, Marshall HH, Thompson FJ, Businge R, Mwanguhya F, Kyabulima S, Mwesige K, Ahabonya S, Sanderson JL, et al (2023). The social formation of fitness: lifetime consequences of prenatal nutrition and postnatal care in a wild mammal population. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 378(1883). Abstract.  Author URL.
Padget RFB, Cant MA, Thompson FJ (2023). Us, them, and the others: Testing for discrimination amongst outgroups in a single‐piece nesting termite,<i>Zootermopsis angusticollis</i>. Ecology and Evolution, 13(3). Abstract.
Green PA, Thompson FJ, Cant MA (2022). Fighting force and experience combine to determine contest success in a warlike mammal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(25). Abstract.
Sankey DWE, Hunt KL, Croft DP, Franks DW, Green PA, Thompson FJ, Johnstone RA, Cant MA (2022). Leaders of war: Modelling the evolution of conflict among heterogeneous groups. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 377(1851). Abstract.
Ellis S, Cant M, Weiss M, Brent L, Meniri M, Thompson F, Croft D (2022). Patterns and consequences of age-linked change in local relatedness in animal societies. Nature Ecology and Evolution Abstract.
Green PA, Preston EFR, Nicholl MH, Croft DP, Thompson FJ, Cant MA (2021). Collective defence and behavioural homogeneity during simulated territorial intrusions in banded mongooses (<i>Mungos mungo</i>). ETHOLOGY, 127(10), 886-896.  Author URL.
Padget RFB, Thompson FJ (2021). Marking through molts: an evaluation of visible implant elastomer to permanently mark individuals in a lower termite species. Ecology and Evolution, 11(18), 12834-12844. Abstract.
Preston EFR, Thompson FJ, Kyabulima S, Croft DP, Cant MA (2021). The dynamics of social cohesion in response to simulated intergroup conflict in banded mongooses. ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION, 11(24), 18662-18675.  Author URL.
Johnstone RA, Cant M, Dominic C, Thompson F (2020). Exploitative leaders incite intergroup warfare in a social mammal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA
Wells DA, Cant MA, Thompson FJ, Marshall HH, Vitikainen EIK, Hoffman JI, Nichols HJ (2020). Extra-group paternity varies with proxies of relatedness in a social mammal with high inbreeding risk. Behavioral Ecology, 32(1), 94-104. Abstract.
Thompson F, Hunt K, Wright K, Rosengaus R, Cole E, Birch G, Maune A, Cant M (2020). Who goes there? Social surveillance as a response to intergroup conflict in a primitive termite. Biology Letters, 16(7). Abstract.
Birch G, Cant MA, Thompson FJ (2019). Behavioural response of workers to repeated intergroup encounters in the harvester ant Messor barbarus. Insectes Sociaux, 66(3), 491-500. Abstract.
Vitikainen E, Thompson F, Marshall H, Cant MA (2019). Live long and prosper: durable benefits of early-life care in banded mongooses. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
Marshall H, Inger R, Jackson AL, McDonald R, Thompson F, Cant MA (2019). Stable isotopes are quantitative indicators of diet and trophic niche. Ecology Letters
Marshall HH, Griffiths DJ, Mwanguhya F, Businge R, Griffiths AGF, Kyabulima S, Mwesige K, Sanderson JL, Thompson FJ, Vitikainen EIK, et al (2018). Data collection and storage in long-term ecological and evolutionary studies: the Mongoose 2000 system. PLoS One, 13(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Sheppard CE, Marshall H, Inger R, Thompson F, Vitikainen E, Barker S, Nichols HJ, Wells DA, McDonald R, Cant MA, et al (2018). Decoupling of genetic and cultural inheritance in a wild mammal. Current Biology
Thompson F, Cant MA (2018). Dynamic conflict among heterogeneous groups: a comment on Christensen and Radford. Behavioral Ecology
Hares MC, Vitikainen EIK, Marshall HH, Thompson FJ, Blount JD, Cant MA (2018). Telomere dynamics in wild banded mongooses: Evaluating longitudinal and quasi-longitudinal markers of senescence. Exp Gerontol, 107, 67-73. Abstract.  Author URL.
Vitikainen EIK, Marshall HH, Thompson FJ, Sanderson JL, Bell MBV, Gilchrist JS, Hodge SJ, Nichols HJ, Cant MA (2017). Biased escorts: Offspring sex, not relatedness explains alloparental care patterns in a cooperative breeder. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1854). Abstract.
Thompson FJ, Marshall HH, Vitikainen EIK, Cant MA (2017). Causes and consequences of intergroup conflict in cooperative banded mongooses. Animal Behaviour, 126, 31-40. Abstract.
Thompson FJ, Cant MA, Marshall HH, Vitikainen EIK, Sanderson JL, Nichols HJ, Gilchrist JS, Bell MBV, Young AJ, Hodge SJ, et al (2017). Explaining negative kin discrimination in a cooperative mammal society. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(20), 5207-5212. Abstract.
Thompson FJ, Marshall HH, Vitikainen EIK, Young AJ, Cant MA (2017). Individual and demographic consequences of mass eviction in cooperative banded mongooses. Animal Behaviour, 134, 103-112. Abstract.
Marshall HH, Vitikainen EIK, Mwanguhya F, Businge R, Kyabulima S, Hares MC, Inzani E, Kalema-Zikusoka G, Mwesige K, Nichols HJ, et al (2017). Lifetime fitness consequences of early-life ecological hardship in a wild mammal population. Ecology and Evolution, 7(6), 1712-1724. Abstract.
Vitikainen EIK, Cant MA, Sanderson JL, Mitchell C, Nichols HJ, Marshall HH, Thompson FJ, Gilchrist JS, Hodge SJ, Johnstone RA, et al (2016). Evidence of Oxidative Shielding of Offspring in a Wild Mammal. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 4
Vitikainen EIK, Cant MA, Sanderson JL, Mitchell C, Nichols HJ, Marshall HH, Thompson FJ, Gilchrist JS, Hodge SJ, Johnstone RA, et al (2016). Evidence of Oxidative Shielding of Offspring in a Wild Mammal. FRONTIERS IN ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION, 4  Author URL.
Inzani EL, Marshall HH, Sanderson JL, Nichols HJ, Thompson FJ, Kalema-Zikusoka G, Hodge SJ, Cant MA, Vitikainen EIK (2016). Female reproductive competition explains variation in prenatal investment in wild banded mongooses. Scientific Reports, 6 Abstract.
Thompson FJ, Marshall HH, Sanderson JL, Vitikainen EIK, Nichols HJ, Gilchrist JS, Young AJ, Hodge SJ, Cant MA (2016). Reproductive competition triggers mass eviction in cooperative banded mongooses. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1826), 20152607-20152607. Abstract.
Marshall HH, Sanderson JL, Mwanguhya F, Businge R, Kyabulima S, Hares MC, Inzani E, Kalema-Zikusoka G, Mwesige K, Thompson FJ, et al (2016). Variable ecological conditions promote male helping by changing banded mongoose group composition. Behavioral Ecology Abstract.
Sanderson JL, Nichols HJ, Marshall HH, Vitikainen EIK, Thompson FJ, Walker SL, Cant MA, Young AJ (2015). Elevated glucocorticoid concentrations during gestation predict reduced reproductive success in subordinate female banded mongooses. Biology Letters, 11(10). Abstract.
Donaldson L, Thompson FJ, Field J, Cant MA (2014). Do paper wasps negotiate over helping effort?. Behavioral Ecology, 25(1), 88-94. Abstract.
Thompson FJ, Donaldson L, Johnstone RA, Field J, Cant MA (2014). Dominant aggression as a deterrent signal in paper wasps. Behavioral Ecology, 25(4), 706-715. Abstract.


Cant MA, Nichols HJ, Thompson FJ, Vitikainen EIK (2016). Banded mongooses: demography, life history, and social behavior. In Koenig WD, Dickinson JL (Eds.) Cooperative breeding in vertebrates: studies of ecology, evolution and behavior, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 318-337.

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External Engagement and Impact

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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Kingsley Hunt

Research Technicians

  • Emma Davey

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Office Hours:

Wednesdays 15:00-16:00

Fridays 13:30-14:30

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