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Ecology and Conservation

Dr Andrew Young

Dr Andrew Young

Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology

 01326 254241

 Daphne du Maurier 3043


Daphne du Maurier Building, University of Exeter,  Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK


I am an Evolutionary Biologist with an interest in Social Evolution and Senescence (Ageing)
My group use long-term field studies of wild social vertebrates (e.g. weaver birds in the Kalahari desert and European badgers here in the UK) and laboratory studies of social microbes to advance our understand of sociality and ageing.
For more info see

I am based at Exeter's Centre for Ecology & Conservation (#ExeterCEC) in Cornwall, UK

I am the Director of our renowned MSc in Evolutionary & Behavioural Ecology
And I support the Research Fellowship programmes of the Royal Society and the BBSRC.

I am also a passionate educator, ecologist and adventurer, enjoying teaching and discovery in the wild as much as the class-room. Most of my research is conducted in the Kalahari desert, but I have taught fieldcourses in a wide variety of places, from Costa Rica, Kenya & India to Scotland, Switzerland & the Isles of Scilly, right here on our doorstep in Cornwall.

I lead the following taught modules & am a Fellow of Higher Education Academy
MSc - Evolutionary & Behavioural Ecology: Frontiers & Approaches
L2 - Animal Ecophysiology
L2 - Isles of Scilly Fieldcourse (St Agnes)

Away from the office, I am a rock climber, sea kayaker, photographer, mammalwatcher & father of twins.

Check out these recent findings from our research on cooperative Kalahari weaver birds:

Mothers in a cooperatively breeding bird lay larger eggs when they'll have more help feeding their nestlings
PLOS Biology

Cooperative breeding allows a Kalahari bird to cope with unpredictable rainfall
Science Advances

Do get in touch if you're interested in joining the group or our MSc in Evolutionary & Behavioural Ecology


2003 PhD Zoology, University of Cambridge
1997 BA (Hons), University of Cambridge


2016-now  Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Exeter
2010-2016 BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow, Exeter
2007-2010 NERC Blue Skies Research Fellow, Exeter
2004-2007 Magdalene College Research Fellow, Cambridge
2000-2003 PhD, Cambridge

I started my career in Cambridge, completing my Honours degree and PhD at St John's, and then holding a Fellowship at Magdalene. I then won a NERC Blue Skies Research Fellowship to move to Exeter’s newly formed Centre for Ecology and Conservation in Cornwall in 2007, to set up the sparrow weaver project, followed by a BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellowship in 2010.


Research group links

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Research interests

My group investigate the Evolution and Mechanisms of Social Behaviour & Senescence (Ageing) using wild social vertebrates and microbes as model systems
Check out for the low down!

I am particularly interested in the evolution of cooperation, social conflict and senescence and the interactions between these phenomena. My group take an integrative approach, asking both evolutionary and mechanistic questions, given the potential for mechanistic insights to shed light on evolutionary constraints and the origins of variation. We test evolutionary and mechanistic hypotheses through a combination of long-term longitudinal life-history, behavioural and molecular (e.g. genomics, endocrine and oxidative stress, and telomere biology) analyses, targeted field experiments, and experimental evolution in the laboratory.

We use natural populations of social vertebrates and laboratory studies of microbes as our main study systems. One of our primary model systems is our long-term study of sparrow weaver societies in the Kalahari desert.

Check out two recent findings from our work on cooperative Kalahari weaver birds:

Mothers in a cooperatively breeding bird lay larger eggs when they'll have more help feeding their nestlings
PLOS Biology

Cooperative breeding allows a Kalahari bird to cope with unpredictable rainfall
Science Advances

Do get in touch if you are interested in joining the group!

Research projects

- The Evolution of Cooperation in Unpredictable Enivornments
- The Evolution of Sex Differences in Cooperation
- The Genetic Architecture of Cooperation
- The Evolution of Plasticity in Cooperation in Animals and Microbial Lineages

- The Evolution of Senescence in Social Organisms
- The Mechanisms of Senescence in Natural Animal Populations
- Parental Age effects on Offspring Performance: Evolution & Mechanisms
- The Evolution of Age-Structured Heterogeneity within Microbial Lineages

For more detail see my research group website

Research networks

Pablo Capilla Lasheras, Alastair Wilson, Ben Ashton, Joao Passos, Xavier Harrison, Marc Naguib, Jon Blount, Nigel Bennett & Simone Meddle

Stefano Pagliara, Angus Buckling, Bram Kuijper

Dez Delahay, Robbie McDonald, TJ McKinley, Dave Hodgson

Patrick Sharman & Alastair Wilson


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Journal articles

Capilla-Lasheras P, Wilson AJ, Young AJ (2023). Mothers in a cooperatively breeding bird increase investment per offspring at the pre-natal stage when they will have more help with post-natal care. PLoS Biol, 21(11). Abstract.  Author URL.
Sharman P, Young AJ, Wilson AJ (2022). Evidence of maternal and paternal age effects on speed in thoroughbred racehorses. R Soc Open Sci, 9(10). Abstract.  Author URL.
Houslay TM, Earley RL, White SJ, Lammers W, Grimmer AJ, Travers LM, Johnson EL, Young AJ, Wilson A (2022). Genetic integration of behavioural and endocrine components of the stress response. Elife, 11 Abstract.  Author URL.
Wood EM, Capilla-Lasheras P, Cram DL, Walker LA, York JE, Lange A, Hamilton PB, Tyler CR, Young AJ (2022). Social dominance and rainfall predict telomere dynamics in a cooperative arid-zone bird. Mol Ecol, 31(23), 6141-6154. Abstract.  Author URL.
Capilla-Lasheras P, Harrison X, Wood EM, Wilson AJ, Young AJ (2021). Altruistic bet-hedging and the evolution of cooperation in a Kalahari bird. Science Advances, 7(39). Abstract.
Brown AM, Wood EM, Capilla-Lasheras P, Harrison XA, Young AJ (2021). Longitudinal evidence that older parents produce offspring with longer telomeres in a wild social bird. Biology Letters, 17(10). Abstract.
Walker LA, Tschirren L, York JE, Sharp PJ, Meddle SL, Young AJ (2021). Prolactin and the shared regulation of parental care and cooperative helping in white-browed sparrow weaver societies. Abstract.
Łapińska U, Glover G, Capilla-Lasheras P, Young AJ, Pagliara S (2019). Bacterial ageing in the absence of external stressors. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 374(1786), 20180442-20180442. Abstract.
York JE, Wells KJ, Young AJ (2019). Dominance-related contributions to collective territory defence are adjusted according to the threat. Animal Behaviour, 158, 25-34. Abstract.
Houslay TM, Earley RL, Young AJ, Wilson AJ (2019). Habituation and individual variation in the endocrine stress response in the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata). General and Comparative Endocrinology, 270, 113-122. Abstract.
Wood EM, Young AJ (2019). Telomere attrition predicts reduced survival in a wild social bird, but short telomeres do not. Mol Ecol, 28(16), 3669-3680. Abstract.  Author URL.
Benton CH, Delahay RJ, Smith FAP, Robertson A, McDonald RA, Young AJ, Burke TA, Hodgson D (2018). Inbreeding intensifies sex- and age-dependent disease in a wild mammal. J Anim Ecol, 87(6), 1500-1511. Abstract.  Author URL.
Houslay TM, Vierbuchen M, Grimmer AJ, Young AJ, Wilson AJ (2018). Testing the stability of behavioural coping style across stress contexts in the Trinidadian guppy. Functional Ecology, 32(2), 424-438. Abstract.
Young AJ (2018). The role of telomeres in the mechanisms and evolution of life-history trade-offs and ageing. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
Thompson FJ, Cant MA, Marshall HH, Vitikainen, Sanderson JL, Nichols HJ, Gilchrist JS, Bell MBV, Hodge SJ, Young AJ, et al (2017). Explaining negative kin discrimination in a cooperative mammal society. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA
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.
Beirne C, Waring L, Mcdonald RA, Delahay R, Young AJ (2016). Age-related declines in immune response in a wild mammal are unrelated to immune cell telomere length. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B
York JE, Radford AN, de Vries B, Groothuis TG, Young AJ (2016). Dominance-related seasonal song production is unrelated to circulating testosterone in a subtropical songbird. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 233, 43-52. Abstract.
York JE, Radford AN, Groothuis TG, Young AJ (2016). Dominant male song performance reflects current immune state in a cooperatively breeding songbird. Ecol Evol, 6(4), 1008-1015. Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, McAuliffe K, Dall SRX, Fernandez-Duque E, Garber PA, Young AJ (2016). Fundamental Problems with the Cooperative Breeding Hypothesis. A reply to Burkart & Van Schaik. Journal of Zoology, 299(2), 84-88.
Thompson F, Marshall HH, Sanderson JL, Vitikainen EIK, Nichols HJ, Gilchrist J, Young AJ, Hodge SJ, Cant MA (2016). Reproductive competition triggers mass eviction in cooperative banded mongooses. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences
Walker L, York JE, Young AJ (2016). Sexually-selected sentinels? Evidence of a role for intra-sexual competition in sentinel behavior. Behavioral Ecology
Sanderson JL, Nichols H, Marshall HH, Vitikainen E, Thompson F, Walker S, Cant MA, Young AJ (2015). Elevated glucocorticoid concentrations during gestation predict reduced reproductive success in subordinate female banded mongooses. Biology Letters
Cram DL, Blount JD, York JE, Young AJ (2015). Immune response in a wild bird is predicted by oxidative status but does not cause oxidative stress. PLoS One
Cram DL, Blount JD, Young AJ (2015). Oxidative status and social dominance in a wild cooperative breeder. Functional Ecology, 29(2), 229-238. Abstract.
Beirne C, Delahay R, Young AJ (2015). Sex differences in senescence: the role of intra-sexual competition in early adulthood. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B
Sanderson JL, Stott I, Young AJ, Vitikainen E, Hodge SJ, Cant MA (2015). The origins of consistent individual differences in cooperation in wild banded mongooses. Animal Behaviour
Cram DL, Blount JD, Young AJ (2015). The oxidative costs of reproduction are group-size dependent in a wild cooperative breeder. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B
Young AJ, Jarvis JUM, Barnaville J, Bennett NC (2015). Workforce effects and the evolution of complex sociality in wild Damaraland mole-rat societies. The American Naturalist
Beirne C, Delahay R, Hares M, Young AJ (2014). Age-related declines and disease-associated variation in immune cell telomere length in a wild mammal. PLoS One
Sanderson JL, Young AJ, Hodge SJ, Kyabulima S, Walker S, Cant MA (2014). Hormonal mediation of a carry-over effect in a wild cooperative mammal. Functional Ecology
Harrison XA, York JE, Young AJ (2014). Population genetic structure and direct 
observations reveal sex-reversed patterns of dispersal in a cooperative bird. Molecular Ecology
York JE, Young AJ, Radford AN (2014). Singing in the moonlight: dawn song performance of a diurnal bird varies with lunar phase. Biology Letters
Mares R, Bateman AW, English S, Clutton-Brock TH, Young AJ (2014). Timing of predispersal prospecting is influenced by environmental, social and state-dependent factors in meerkats. Animal Behaviour
Harrison XA, York JE, Cram DL, Hares MC, Young AJ (2013). Complete reproductive skew within white-browed sparrow weaver groups despite outbreeding opportunities for subordinates of both sexes. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67(12), 1915-1929. Abstract.
Harrison XA, York JE, Cram DL, Young AJ (2013). Extra-group mating increases inbreeding risk in a cooperatively breeding bird. Molecular Ecology, 22(22), 5700-5715. Abstract.
Young AJ, Bennett NC (2013). Intra-sexual selection in cooperative mammals and birds: why aren't females bigger and better armed?. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences
Lutermann H, Young AJ, Bennett NC (2013). Reproductive status and testosterone among females in cooperative mole-rat societies. General and Comparative Endocrinology
Cant MA, Young AJ (2013). Resolving social conflict among females without overt aggression. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences
Mares R, Young AJ, Clutton-Brock TH (2012). Individual contributions to territory defence in a cooperative breeder: weighing up the benefits and costs. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences
Abbot P, Abe J, Alcock J, Alizon S, Alpedrinha JAC, Andersson M, Andre J-B, van Baalen M, Balloux F, Balshine S, et al (2011). Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality. Nature, 471(7339), E1-E4. Abstract.  Author URL.
Mares R, Young AJ, Levesque DL, Harrison N, Clutton-Brock TH (2011). Responses to intruder scents in the cooperatively breeding meerkat: Sex and social status differences and temporal variation. Behavioral Ecology, 22(3), 594-600. Abstract.
Clutton-Brock TH, Hodge SJ, Flower TP, Spong G, Young AJ (2010). Adaptive suppression of subordinate reproduction in cooperative mammals. American Naturalist, 176, 664-673.
Young AJ, Bennett NC (2010). Morphological divergence of breeders and helpers in Damaraland mole-rat societies. Evolution, 64, 3190-3197.
Young AJ, Oosthuizen MK, Lutermann H, Bennett NC (2010). Physiological suppression eases in Damaraland mole-rat societies when ecological constraints on dispersal are relaxed. Horm Behav, 57, 177-183. Abstract.
Young AJ, Monfort SL (2009). Stress and the costs of extra-territorial movement in a social carnivore. Biology Letters
Spong GF, Hodge SJ, Young AJ, Clutton-Brock TH (2008). Factors affecting the reproductive success of dominant male meerkats. Mol Ecol, 17(9), 2287-2299. Abstract.  Author URL.
Young AJ, Monfort, S.L. Clutton-Brock, T.H. (2008). The causes of physiological suppression among female meerkats: a role for subordinate restraint due to the threat of infanticide?. Hormones and Behaviour, 53
Russell AF, Young AJ, Spong G, Jordan NR, Clutton-Brock TH (2007). Helpers increase the reproductive potential of offspring in cooperative meerkats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 274
Young AJ, Spong G, Clutton-Brock TH (2007). Subordinate male meerkats prospect for extra-group paternity: alternative reproductive tactics in a cooperative animal. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences, 274(1618), 1603-1609.
Carlson AA, Manser, M.B. Young, A.J. Russell, A.F. Jordan N, McNeilly AS, Clutton-Brock TH (2006). Cortisol levels are positively associated with pup-feeding rates in male meerkats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 273
Carlson AA, Russell, A.F. Young, A.J. Jordan, N. McNeilly AS, Clutton-Brock TH (2006). Elevated prolactin levels immediately precede decisions to babysit by male meerkat helpers. Hormones and Behaviour, 50
Young AJ, Clutton-Brock TH (2006). Infanticide by subordinates influences reproductive sharing in cooperatively breeding meerkats. Biology Letters, 2(3), 385-387.
Young AJ, Carlson AA, Russell AF, Bennett NC, Monfort SL, Clutton-Brock TH (2006). Stress and the suppression of subordinate reproduction in cooperatively breeding meerkats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(32), 12005-12010.
Stephens PA, Russell AF, Young AJ, Sutherland WJ, Clutton-Brock TH (2005). Dispersal, eviction, and conflict in meerkats (Suricata suricatta): an evolutionarily stable strategy model. American Naturalist, 165(1), 120-135. Abstract.
Young AJ, Carlson AA, Clutton-Brock TH (2005). Trade-offs between extra-territorial prospecting and helping in a cooperative mammal. Animal Behaviour, 70(4), 829-837.
Carlson AA, Young AJ, Russell AF, Bennett NC, McNeilly AS, Clutton-Brock T (2004). Hormonal correlates of dominance in meerkats (Suricata suricatta). Horm Behav, 46(2), 141-150. Abstract.  Author URL.
Carlson AA, Nicol, L. Young, A.J. Parlow, A.F. McNeilly AS (2003). Radioimmunoassay of prolactin for the meerkat (Suricata suricatta), a cooperatively breeding carnivore. General & Comparative Endocrinology, 130
Clutton-Brock TH, Russell, A.F. Sharpe, L.L. Young, A.J. Balmforth Z, McIlrath GM (2002). Evolution and development of sex differences in cooperative behaviour in meerkats. Science, 297(5579).


Young AJ (2009). The Causes of Physiological Suppression in Vertebrate Societies: a Synthesis. In Hager R, Jones CB (Eds.) Reproductive Skew in Vertebrates, Cambridge University Press, 397-436.

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External Engagement and Impact

Committee/panel activities

Research Council Responsibilities:
Royal Society Newton Fellowship Committee 2018-Present
BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship (FLF) mentoring 2015-2018

External Examination of Post-graduate Research Theses:
S. Ravindran, University of Edinburgh, UK (PhD)
T. Brown, University of East Anglia, UK (PhD)
P. Roskell, University of Lancaster, UK (MbyRes)
L. Fitzpatrick, University of Tasmania, Australia (PhD)
M. Brachet, University of Pretoria, South Africa (PhD)
A. Sibma, University of Sheffield, UK (PhD)
M. Roast, Universtiy of Melbourne, Australia (PhD)
S. Kroeger, University of Aberdeen, UK (PhD)
N. Khwaja, University of Sheffield, UK (PhD)
C. Christensen, University of Bristol, UK (MbyRes)
M. Paquet, CEFE CNRS Montpellier, France (PhD)
A. Sibun, University of Bristol, UK (MbyRes)
L. Grinsted, Aarhus Univeristy, Denmark (PhD)
K.L. Edwards, University of Liverpool, UK (PhD)
H.J. Nichols, University of Cambridge, UK (PhD)
F.J. De Haas van Dorsser, University of Cambridge, UK (PhD)

Scientific Committees:
International Society for Behavioural Ecology 2016
International Mammological Congress 2013

Editorial responsibilities

Refereeing for the following journals: Aging Cell, American Naturalist, Animal Behaviour, Behavioral Ecology, Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology, Biology Letters, Conservation Physiology, Evolution, Evolutionary Psychology, Hormones & Behavior, Journal of Animal Ecology, Journal of Biodiversity Management & Forestry, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Journal of Zoology, Journal of Mammalogy, Nature Communications, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Physiology & Behavior, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Science.

Refereeing for book publishers: Cambridge University Press

Reviewing research grants: BBSRC, NERC, Royal Society, Leverhulme Trust, NRF

Invited lectures

I have given invited seminars at >25 research institutions in the UK and overseas

Invited Keynotes & Public Engagement Lectures
European Society for Behaviour and Cognition, St Andrews
Ethological Society, Hamburg
Zoological Society of London Communicating Science Series, London
Social Interactions Conference in Neuchatel, Switzerland
Biodemography of Ageing, Longevity and Sociality, Azores
ASAB Easter Meeting, Nottingham
Chicago Zoological Society

Media Coverage

International media coverage
National Geographic magazine, Scientific American, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times, Nature, Science, Science News, Science Illustrated, CBS Radio (Canada), BBC Radio, I Fucking Love Science, Mail on Sunday, Quo, Der Spiegel, Die Welt, Die Press, Süddeutsche Zeitung and others.

Research photography
Nature, Science, BBC Wildlife, TREE, Natural History, The Daily Telegraph, Africa Geographic, Biology Letters, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Ethology, Hormones & Behavior, BBC Knowledge, Science Illustrated, Science News, Quo, World Birdwatch and in books by Orion and Cambridge University Press

Scientific consulting
National Geographic, BBC Natural History Unit, Oxford Scientific Films and Tigress Productions

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I very much enjoy teaching in the class-room and the field, and my teaching portfolio reflects this...

At Masters level, I am the Director of the Evolutionary & Behavioural Ecology MSc Programme and lead its core taught module Evolutionary & Behavioural Ecology: Frontiers & Approaches (BIOM4046)

I also lead our second-year undergraduate Isles of Scilly Fieldcourse (St Agnes), in which we explore the challenges of conducting ecological field studies in the wild, and of quantifying and preserving biodiversity, drawing inspiration from the stunning natural environments of the Scilly archipelago on our doorstep here in Cornwall.

And I also lead second-year Animal Ecophysiology (BIO2427), in which we explore the interactions between evolution and mechanisms; both how adaptation has shaped physiological mechanisms and how key physiological processes may constrain and thereby explain evolutionary outcomes.

I also contribute to Research Week at the very start of first year, when we introduce our new cohorts of students to the fun & frolics of conducting short ecological research projects here in Cornwall. I also run Third year Research Projects, typically conducting experimental investigations of territorial behaviour in European robins right here on our Cornwall campus. And I act as pastoral Tutor to many of our Evolutionary & Behavioural Ecology Masters students.

I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy



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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • William Singleton (PhD 2021-25, Exeter) The evolution and mechanisms of senescence in microbial lineages
  • Melanie Weedon (PhD 2017-23, Exeter) The mechanisms and transgenerational effects of senescence in wild European badgers


  • Chris Beirne (PhD 2011-14, Exeter, with Dez Delahay of FERA)The mechanisms of senescence in wild European badgers
  • Chris Beirne (BBSRC Post-doctoral Research Associate) Mechanisms of senescence in wild social vertebrates
  • Antony Brown (PhD 2017-21, Exeter) Kin competition and senescence in a wild social bird
  • Pablo Capilla Lasheras (PhD 2016-19, Exeter) The Evolution of Cooperation in Variable Environments
  • Dominic Cram (PhD 2013) Load-lightening, oxidative stress and the evolution of avian cooperation
  • Xavier Harrison (BBSRC Post-doctoral Research Associate) Patterns of parentage in sparrow weaver societies: cause and implications for mate choice, dispersal and cooperation
  • Rafael Mares (PhD 2012) Extra-territorial prospecting and territory defence in cooperatively breeding meerkats
  • Olivia O Callaghan (MbyRes 2019-21, Exeter) The evolution of cooperation via group augmentation and workload-lightening
  • Jenni Sanderson (PhD 2013) The regulation of cooperation and conflict in banded mongoose societies
  • Faye Thompson (PhD 2017, Exeter, with Mike Cant) Dispersal, inter-group conflict and population dynamics in banded mongooses
  • Lindsay Walker (PhD 2012-16, Exeter, with Nick Royle) Early life effects on parental and cooperative care in sparrow weaver societies
  • Alice Williams (PhD 2014-2018, Exeter with Tom Currie) The evolution of sociopolitical complexity in humans
  • Emma Wood (PhD 2017, Exeter) Causes and fitness consequences of telomere dynamics in a wild social bird
  • Jenny York (PhD 2012) The regulation and function of dawn song in sparrow-weaver societies

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Office Hours:

Thursdays: 9-10AM and 2-3PM
Or drop me an email at any time!

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