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Research interests

Mating systems and parental behaviour

Family life is rife with conflicts. Not only the interests of parents and their offspring may be different, but the male and the female parents may also disagree how much care each should provide for their offspring.

My group investigates bird species to understand how conflict and cooperation influences family lives. We study birds in their natural populations, and build mathematical models to understand their behaviour. In plovers the sexual conflict is expressed when the chicks hatch: in some families the female, whereas in others the male, abandons the brood. We have discovered that the parents carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of this tug-of-war, and now we are investigating whether their behaviour has any genetic basis.

Penduline tits have one of the most exciting mating systems: both parents start looking for a new mate before they actually complete their clutch. What determines whether the male or the female cares for the chicks? How do parents solve their conflict? In this project we are aiming to understand some of the basic components of sexual conflict over mating & care.

Breeding systems in shorebirds

Shorebirds have exceptionally diverse breeding systems. Some shorebirds are polygamous, whether others are monogamous, or polyandrous. Why do shorebirds exhibit this unusual diversity? How did this diversity evolve? To answer these questions my group is using phylogenetic analyses.

Conservation of wetland birds

Many waterbird populations are declining. We carry out fieldwork in some of the most exciting places on the planet, and use phylogenetic methods to identify what makes a species decline. If you live in a country where endangered waterbirds live, we like to hear from you.


I have ongoing collaborations with several research institutions that include University of Groningen, Bristol University and Debrecen University.

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wader Earth & Environmental Sciences
Charadrius alexandrinus Agriculture & Biology
parental care Earth & Environmental Sciences
Charadriidae Agriculture & Biology
nests Agriculture & Biology
reproductive strategy Earth & Environmental Sciences
dimorphism Agriculture & Biology
sexual selection Agriculture & Biology

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Projects 2006 2022

Research Output 2000 2019

Conserved transcriptomic profiles underpin monogamy across vertebrates

Young, R. L., Ferkin, M. H., Ockendon-Powell, N. F., Orr, V. N., Phelps, S. M., Pogány, Á., Richards-Zawacki, C. L., Summers, K., Székely, T., Trainor, B. C., Urrutia, A. O., Zachar, G., O’Connell, L. A. & Hofmann, H. A., 22 Jan 2019, In : Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 116, 4, p. 1331-1336 6 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Offspring sex ratio is unrelated to parental quality and time of breeding in a multiple-breeding shorebird

Que, P., Székely, T., Wang, P., Lu, Q., Lei, W., Liu, Y. & Zhang, Z., 8 Jan 2019, In : Journal of Ornithology.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Sex ratios and bimaturism differ between temperature-dependent and genetic sex-determination systems in reptiles

Bókony, V., Milne, G., Pipoly, I., Székely, T. & Liker, A., 18 Feb 2019, In : BMC Evolutionary Biology. 19, 1, p. 57 57.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Open Access
2 Citations (Scopus)

Demographic causes of adult sex ratio variation and their consequences for parental cooperation

Eberhart-Phillips, L. J., Küpper, C., Carmona-Isunza, M. C., Vincze, O., Zefania, S., Cruz-López, M., Kosztolányi, A., Miller, T. E. X., Barta, Z., Cuthill, I. C., Burke, T., Székely, T., Hoffman, J. I. & Krüger, O., 25 Apr 2018, In : Nature Communications. 9, 1, p. 1-8 8 p., 1651.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Sex Ratio
Social Behavior

Personality assortative female mating preferences in a songbird

Pogány, Á., Vincze, E., Szurovecz, Z., Kosztolányi, A., Barta, Z., Székely, T. & Riebel, K., 2018, In : Behaviour. 155, 6, p. 481-503 23 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
mating behavior
Taeniopygia guttata


Conservation biology of wetland birds: breeding ecology, spatial analyses and genetic differentiation

Author: Almalki, M., 31 May 2015

Supervisor: Szekely, T. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD