Professor Ben J Hatchwell

School of Biosciences

Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Level 4 Year Tutor
+44 114 222 4625

Full contact details

Professor Ben J Hatchwell
School of Biosciences
Alfred Denny Building
Western Bank
S10 2TN
  • 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, University of Sheffield (2007-present)
Research interests

Social Evolution

My principal research interest is in social evolution and reproductive strategies in birds. The main approach of my research is to use field observations and experiments to test evolutionary theory. I have been studying cooperative breeding in long-tailed tits since 1994, and have also collaborated recently on other projects on cooperative behaviour in sociable weavers, riflemen and monk parakeets. Specific research interests include:

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

Population Ecology

I am also interested in pure and applied aspects of avian population ecology, including long-term studies of seabirds, parrot conservation and the ecology of urban bird populations. Recent projects include studies of guillemots, blackbirds and three species of parrot. Specific areas of interest include:

  • The population dynamics of guillemots on Skomer Island
  • Population biology of vulnerable parrot populations
  • The relationship between urban and rural bird populations
  • Invasion biology of monk parakeets in Europe

Show: Featured publications All publications

Journal articles

All publications

Journal articles


Conference proceedings papers

  • Adams M, Robinson M & Hatchwell B (2013) Their genes are your environment: Social genetics of breeding behavior in birds. BEHAVIOR GENETICS, Vol. 43(6) (pp 505-505) RIS download Bibtex download
Research group

Dr Marion Germain
NERC-funded Post-doctoral Research Associate (2018-2021). Dispersal through fitness landscapes in a social bird: from individuals to populations. PI - BJH, CoIs – DR Jonathan Potts, Dr Dylan Childs, Dr Karl Evans.

Sarah Biddiscombe
NERC-funded Technician (2018-2021). Dispersal through fitness landscapes in a social bird: from individuals to populations. PI - BJH, CoIs – DR Jonathan Potts, Dr Dylan Childs, Dr Karl Evans.

Caitlin Higgott
NERC-funded ACCE PhD student (2015-2019). Evolutionary ecology of an extended phenotype: nest design and function in a variable environment. Lead supervisor - BJH, co-supervisor Dr Karl Evans.

Natasha Ellison
EPSRC-funded PhD student (2016-2020). The emergence of home-ranging patterns from foraging decisions. Lead supervisor – Dr Jonathan Potts, co-supervisor - BJH.

Francesca Dawson Pell
NERC-funded ACCE PhD student (2017-2021). Alien parrots: social and genetic structure of an invasive population. Lead supervisor – BJH, co-supervisors: Dr Juan Carlos Senar (Barcelona Museum of Natural History) and Dr Dan Franks (University of York).

Tom Lewis
NERC-funded ACCE PhD student (2018-2022). Demography and conservation of the great green macaw in Central America. Lead supervisor – Dr Dylan Childs, co-supervisors - Dr Andrew Beckerman and BJH, CASE partner – Chester Zoo and Dr Sam Williams (Ara Project).

Robyn Geldard
CSC-funded PhD student at Beijing Forestry University, China (2018-2022). Familiarity as a mechanism for kin recognition in long-tailed tits. Lead supervisor – Dr Jianqiang Li, co-supervisor - BJH.

Chay Halliwell
NERC-funded ACCE2 PhD student (2019-2023). Cooperation, conflict and the coordination of care in a social bird. Lead supervisor - BJH, co-supervisors - Dr Sam Patrick (University of Liverpool) and Dr Andrew Beckerman.

Fionnuala McCully
NERC-funded ACCE2 PhD student (2019-2023). How do Arctic seabirds coordinate care in a changing climate? Lead supervisor – Dr Sam Patrick (University of Liverpool), co-supervisor - BJH.

MRes and MBiolSci Students

  • Christina Preslavska (2018-2019)
  • Gracie Adams (2018-2019)
  • Ramona Howard (2019-2020)
  • Rae Smith (2019-2020)

Visitors to Research Group

  • Dr Shaobin Li, Yangtze University, China; funded by Chinese Scholarship Council (2019-2020).
Teaching activities

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

At Level 1, I teach practicals in APS121 on the evolution of morphological adaptations. I also run a practical for Zoology students in week 1 of Semester A. 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 Animal Behaviour (APS209, 10 credits). I have been fascinated by 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 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 Cooperation & Conflict (APS347, 10 credits), and I also run the Behavioural Ecology Field Course to Portugal (APS356, 20 credits). The aim of APS347 is to demonstrate how theory provides the framework that allows us to make sense of the extraordinarily diverse social behaviour that exists in the natural world, including our 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 and dissertations. 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, APS406 (Research Project, 70 credits) and APS402 (Research Dissertation, 20 credits). I usually supervise two MBiolSci 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, involving field observations, experiments and analysis of long-term data. I also supervise MRes students in their research projects, typically one student per year.

Professional activities
  • International Society for Behavioral Ecology: President-elect (2014-2016), President (2016-2018) and Past-President (2018-2020)
  • External examiner: MSc in Applied Ecology, University of Exeter (Falmouth)
  • Editor: Behavioral Ecology (2010-2013)
  • Editor: Animal Behaviour (2005-2008)
  • Member of Council: Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (2006-2009)
  • Member of Council: British Ornithologists’ Union (1999-2003)
  • Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2008-2009)