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Dr Sinead English

Overview: Maternal and early-life effects in ecology, evolution and epidemiology

My research focuses on how variation in environmental and maternal conditions shapes offspring development, behaviour and life history, and the consequences of this individual plasticity for ecological and evolutionary processes. A key theme of my work is to investigate how transgenerational and developmental effects drive population responses to environmental change. I use a variety of approaches, including mathematical models, comparative analyses and empirical tests on an important disease vector – the tsetse fly (Glossina spp.). 


Current opportunities to join my group: I am keen to support early-career researchers to develop a proposal for fellowship applications to work with me and my excellent colleagues at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol. Please contact me if you'd like to discuss this further. 

Twitter @englishse


Current research: tsetse as a model of maternal effects

My current research, funded by the Royal Society, investigates how maternal effects in tsetse influence offspring responses to environmental change. Specifically, I am testing whether mothers experiencing warmer temperatures produce offspring who are better or worse adapted to such environments. I am also leading a BBSRC-funded collaborative project on the role of reproductive senescence in shaping the ecology and epidemiology of tsetse and tsetse-borne disease, involving experts in vector biology (Steve Torr, Lee Haines and Jennifer Lord at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Glyn Vale and John Hargrove at Stellenbosch University) and mathematical modelling (Matt Keeling and Kat Rock at the Univeristy of Warwick, and Mike Bonsall at the University of Oxford). Tsetse are an ideal model to investigate maternal effects owing to their unusually high maternal investment: females give birth to single, fully developed larvae that match their mothers in size. Tsetse are not the only flies which exhibit such viviparity, and, to further understand the evolutionary causes and consequences of pregnancy, I have started a comparative analysis of viviparity across Diptera.


Previous and related research: early-life effects in cooperative and other systems 

My previous research on wild meerkats has highlighted how early-life conditions constrain later development, as individuals follow distinct behavioural and growth trajectories from an early age. In spite of such long-term trajectories being relatively fixed, we have recently shown that individuals have the capacity to adjust their growth in response to social competition. I am continuing to test how social influences shape developmental trajectories using a range of systems, through current and planned co-supervision of PhD projects on meerkats, zebra finches and viviparous cockroaches.

Research keywords

  • vector ecology
  • developmental plasticity
  • evolution
  • ecology
  • cooperative breeding