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.
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.
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.
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
Similar to the birds, most of my work on fishes concerns the interactions between predators and their prey.
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.
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
School of Biological Sciences
University of Queensland
St Lucia | Brisbane 4072