Michela Busana

Michela Busana

Project: Influence of demographic and social environment on individual behavioral phenotypes and fitness.

Michela was a PhD student at the University of Groningen studying individual fitness and population dynamics of the Seychelles warblers. More specifically, she looked at the causes and consequences of individual heterogeneity in life-history and behavioral traits.

Understanding the evolutionary mechanisms underlying this variation among individuals in natural population is particularly important because natural selection can only act on individuals when they vary in phenotypes and this variation has fitness consequences. The response to selection depends on this variation having a genetic basis. Moreover variability in fitness related traits affects population dynamics. For example, the rate of survival, and reproduction over age and state might increase/decrease in relation to the genetic or phenotypic trait examined.

In cooperatively breeding species – in which breeders receive help from other individuals when raising their own offspring – patterns of survival, reproduction and dispersal are also affected by social organizstion and social structure.

One of the benefits of the Seychelles warblers study system is the long-term dataset, including a genetic pedigree. To address these questions she implemented a mix of field observations, laboratory analyses, statistical analysis and mathematical models. Michela's work aimed to improve our understanding of the relative role of individual variation, social organisation, environmental stochasticity and density dependence on determining population persistence and evolutionary potentials of cooperative breeding species.