Professor Ben J Hatchwell

Professor Ben Hatchwell

Tel: +44 (0)114 222 4625


Room B91, Alfred Denny Building



BA (1984) University of Oxford
PhD (1988) University of Sheffield
Post-doc, University of Cambridge (1988-90)
Post-doc, University of Oxford (1991-93)
Lecturer in Zoology, University of Sheffield (1993-2002)
Senior Lecturer in Zoology, University of Sheffield (2002-04)
Reader, University of Sheffield (2004-06)
Professor of Evolutionary Ecology (2007-present)

Key Research Interests

image of birds

My principal research interest is in social evolution and reproductive strategies. My main approach is to use field observations and experiments to test evolutionary theory. Specific research interests and achievements include:

  • The ecological factors that promote the evolution of animal societies
  • The influence of individual dispersal decisions on the genetic structure of populations and the consequences for cooperative behaviour
  • The alternative reproductive strategies of individuals in cooperative groups and their fitness consequences
  • Mechanisms of kin recognition in social animals
  • Proximate and ultimate causes of variation in parental investment

I am also interested in avian population ecology, including long-term studies of seabirds and the ecology of urban bird populations. Specific areas of interest include:

  • The population dynamics of guillemots using CMR analysis of individually marked birds
  • The factors determining the size and permanence of bird populations in the urban environment
  • The relationship between urban and rural bird populations

Professional Activities

International Society for Behavioural Ecology: President-elect (2014-16), President (2016-18) and Past-President (2018-20)
Editor: Behavioral Ecology (2010-13)
Editor: Animal Behaviour (2005-08)
Member of Council: Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (2006-09)
Member of Council: British Ornithologists´ Union (1999-2003)
Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2008-09)
NERC College Member (2003-06)
Plenary lecturer: International Society for Behavioral Ecology Congress (2008)


I am a Level 4 Tutor for APS and a member of the APS Teaching Committee.

At Level 1, I teach one practical in APS121 (Evolution) on the evolutionary process of adaptation in morphological traits. Level 1 tutorials cover a variety of themes relating to evolutionary biology, and my general approach is to encourage students to think critically about the nature of science, to consider the different ways of asking and answering scientific questions, and to develop skills in science communication in various formats.

At Level 2, I teach on APS209 (Animal Behaviour). I have been fascinated by natural history, especially birds, since I was young and becoming a behavioural ecologist was a natural progression from that early obsession. In common with my colleagues in APS, my teaching is research-led, with the ambition of communicating my enthusiasm and knowledge about animal behaviour to students. In APS209, my lectures focus on the theory underpinning the study of behaviour, social evolution and reproductive strategies, reflecting my research interests in these fields. My approach to Level 2 tutorials is similar to that at Level 1, with higher expectations in terms of levels of analysis and critical thought, as well as development of greater skills in analysis and communication.

At Level 3, I coordinate one 20-credit module, APS347 (Conflict and Cooperation) and I also teach on APS337 (Behavioural Ecology Field Course) in Portugal. The aim of APS347 is to demonstrate how theory provides the framework that allows us to make sense of the extraordinarily diverse behaviour that exists in the natural world, including your own behaviour. The Portugal field course is a highlight of the teaching year because of the quality of the projects conducted by students, and more importantly, because the opportunity to engage in research offered by such courses is often a critical moment in students' development as scientists. At Level 3, I also supervise projects (APS330) and dissertations (APS331). The former generally focus on testing optimality models using field experiments on birds, while dissertation students choose their own topic in the field of evolutionary biology.

At Level 4 I coordinate two modules: APS402 (Research Dissertation) and APS406 (Research Project). I usually supervise one or two Level 4 project students per year, and they are embedded within my research group, working alongside my PhD students on novel questions relating to some aspect of the behaviour and ecology of birds, and involving field observations, experiments and analysis of long-term data.

Research Group

Dr René van Dijk
NERC-funded Post-doctoral Research Associate. Cooperative work in social birds: how is a tragedy of the commons averted?

Nyil Khwaja
PhD student (2012-16; NERC; co-supervised by Dr Jim Briskie, Otago, New Zealand). Cooperative breeding in the rifleman: kin recognition and investment rules.

Amy Leedale
PhD student (2014-2018; NERC; co-supervised by Dr Elva Robinson, University of Leeds) Functions and mechanisms of kin recognition in social birds.

Caitlin Higgott
PhD student (2015-2019; NERC; co-supervised by Dr Karl Evans, University of Sheffield) Evolutionary ecology of an extended phenotype: nest design and function in a variable environment.

Natasha Ellison
PhD student (2016-2020; EPSRC; co-supervisor with Dr Jonathan Potts, University of Sheffield) The emergence of home ranging patterns from foraging decisions.

Francesca Dawson Pell
PhD student (2017-2021; NERC; co-supervised by Dr Juan Carlos Senar, Natural History Museum of Barcelona, Spain, and Dr Dan Franks, University of York) Social and genetic structure of an invasive parrot population.

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