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Institut für Evolutionäre Anthropologie (IEA)

Emeline Mourocq


My PhD project will focus on the study of the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds. I am interested in determining which factors are driving the shift from family group living to cooperative breeding. I will examine the role of life-history and ecology in the evolution of the postponement of personal reproduction and helping behaviours within a family living system.

A large number of bird species live in stable groups providing the possibility for complex social behaviours, such as cooperative breeding. This social system, which occurs when an adult member of a social group provides regular care to offspring that are not their own, is found in about 10% of all birds and is mainly observed in family-group-living species.

Understanding this social behaviour has remained an important challenge in behavioural ecology for over 50 years. Yet there is still little knowledge on what factors select for the evolution of cooperative breeding and the research has so far not separated the evolution of families from the evolution of cooperatively breeding societies.
 Family living occurs when offspring stay beyond independence with their parents instead of dispersing. However, not all species that are family living also display cooperative breeding behaviour. For a family group living species to evolved into a cooperative breeding species, some individuals need, in addition to delayed dispersal (condition for existence of family), to postpone independent reproduction and engaged in helping behaviour. Thus, the key to explain evolution of cooperative breeding within family group living is to understand:

  1. Why do some members of a family delayed or forgo personal reproduction?
  2. Why do these individuals provide help?


  • Spitz J., Mourocq E., Leaute J.P., Quero J.C. & Ridoux V (2010). Prey selection by the common dolphin: Fulfilling high energy requirements with high quality food. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 390, 73-77
  • Spitz J., Mourocq E., Schoen V. & Ridoux V (2010). Proximate composition and energy content of forage species from the Bay of Biscay: high- or low-quality food? Ices Journal of Marine Science, 67, 909-915



PhD thesis in "Evolutionary Ecology-Behavioural Ecology", University of Bern


M.Sc in “Biodiversity Ecology and Evolution”, University of Montpellier

Weiterführende Informationen


Emeline Mourocq
Anthropological Institute and Museum
Office Y42-K-66
University of Zürich - Irchel
Winterthurerstrasse 190
CH-8057 Zürich

Phone: +41 (0)44 635 54 34