Contact Dr. WILLIAM feeney

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Cambridge
United Kingdom

William E Feeney is a field biologist based between the University of Cambridge (UK) and the University of Queenlsand (AUS). His research focuses on understanding why animals are the way they are, and do the things they do.

Research

William E Feeney is a field biologist based between the University of Cambridge (UK) and the University of Queenlsand (AUS). His research focuses on understanding why animals are the way they are, and do the things they do.

My research mostly focuses on the ecological and evolutionary consequences of interactions between species, such as those between parasites and hosts or predators and prey. At the moment I am using birds and coral reef fishes to look into questions on this general-ish topic.

birds

Most of my work on birds is on the interactions between brood parasites, such as cuckoos, and their hosts.

Brood parasites do not build a nest, or care for their offspring. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and abandon the care of their young to their hosts. Raising a brood parasite usually comes at the expense of the host's own offspring, which selects for defenses against brood parasitism. In turn, host defenses select for counter-offenses in brood parasites, which select for further counter-defenses in hosts, and so on: a coevolutionary arms race.

It's the exclusive nature of these interactions that makes them useful for studying ecological and evolutionary questions.

Superb fairy-wrens are super aggressive towards cuckoos. Photo by Will Feeney.

Superb fairy-wrens are super aggressive towards cuckoos. Photo by Will Feeney.

While there are a lot of different questions that can be studied using brood parasitism as a model, my research on (mostly) Australian cuckoos and their hosts tends to focus on questions revolving around topics including: communication, cooperation, learning and mimicry.

 

 

 

Key Publications:

Feeney WE, Troscianko J, Langmore NE, Spottiswoode CN. 2015. Evidence for aggressive mimicry in an adult brood parasitic bird, and generalized defences in its host. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282: 20150795. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0795    PDF

Feeney WE, Welbergen JA, Langmore NE. 2014b. Advances in the study of coevolution between avian brood parasites and their hosts. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 45: 227-246. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-120213-091603    PDF

Feeney WE, Medina I, Somveille M, Heinsohn R, Hall ML, Mulder RA, Stein JA, Kilner RM, Langmore NE. 2013. Brood parasitism and the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds. Science 342: 1506-1508. doi: 10.1126/science.1240039    PDF

Feeney WE, Langmore NE. 2013. Social learning of a brood parasite by its host. Biology Letters 9: 20130443. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0443    PDF

A hungry fan-tailed cuckoo fledgling being fed by its white-browed scrubwren foster parent in Brisbane, Australia. Image by Danielle Ferraro.

A hungry fan-tailed cuckoo fledgling being fed by its white-browed scrubwren foster parent in Brisbane, Australia. Image by Danielle Ferraro.

African cuckoo finches (left) seem to have evolved to look like harmless bishops (right) in an attempt to trick their prinia hosts into thinking they're harmless. Image by Claire Spottiswoode.

African cuckoo finches (left) seem to have evolved to look like harmless bishops (right) in an attempt to trick their prinia hosts into thinking they're harmless. Image by Claire Spottiswoode.

Superb fairy-wrens absolutely hate cuckoos! Here's a video of my poor cuckoo model being attacked by some angry fairy-wrens (the cage is to protect the model). Video by Will Feeney.


fishes

Similar to the birds, most of my work on fishes concerns the interactions between predators and their prey.

Predators, such as moray eels, do not attack cleaner fish that remove parasites from their skin. Photo by Albert Kok.

Predators, such as moray eels, do not attack cleaner fish that remove parasites from their skin. Photo by Albert Kok.

Coral reefs provide brilliant systems for studying the ecological repercussions of predation. This is because most coral reef fishes have a life-history in which they cast their eggs into the open ocean, where the eggs develop and hatch before the larval fish make their way back to the reef to settle and develop into adults. During this recruitment process, millions of larval fishes recruit to the reef, providing a banquet to the waiting predators. This kind of severe survival bottleneck is perfect for studying how natural selection works, as well as the unique adaptions and counter-adaptations that prey and predators have evolved in an attempt to thwart one another during this period.

Key Publications:

Feeney WE, Brooker RM (2017) Anemonefishes. Current Biology 27: R6-R8 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.046

Grutter AS, Feeney WE (2016) Equivalent cleaning in a juvenile facultative and obligate cleaning wrasse: an insight into the evolution of cleaning in labrids? Coral Reefs 35: 991-997 doi:10.1007/soo338-016-1460-x

Cortesi F, Feeney WE, Ferrari MCO, Waldie PA, Phillips GAC, McClure EC, Genevieve AC, Sköld HN, Salzburger W, Marshall NJ, Cheney KL (2015) Phenotypic plasticity confers multiple fitness benefits to a mimic. Current Biology 25: 949-954. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.02.013

Feeney WE, Lönnstedt O, Bosiger Y, Martin J, Jones GP, Rowe R, McCormick MI. 2012b. High rate of prey consumption in a small predatory fish on coral reefs. Coral Reefs 31: 909-918. doi:10.1007/s00338-012-0894-z   PDF

Dottybacks change colour to trick damselfish so that they can get close to, and eat their babies. Photo by N Justin Marshall.

Dottybacks change colour to trick damselfish so that they can get close to, and eat their babies. Photo by N Justin Marshall.

Fabio's video abstract! In this he's talking about how and why dottybacks change colour. Video by Alex Vail for Current Biology.


School of Biological Sciences
University of Queensland
St Lucia | Brisbane 4072
Australia