On your best behavior – Kirsty MacLeod joins Real Scientists!

We are delighted to welcome our next curator, Kirsty MacLeod (@kirstyjean), postdoc at Penn State University, USA. Kirsty investigates the effects of maternal stress on offspring in eastern fence lizards, in particular the stress associated with invasive fire ants. You can read more about her work on her blog. We also asked here the usual set of questions, and here she is in her own words:

I grew up on an island on the west coast of Scotland – very rural, very coastal – so I was really plugged in to nature and loved being outdoors from a young age. Having family in South Africa exposed me to very different ecosystems and animals too – so when it came to deciding on a career path, I knew it had to involve the outdoors (and ideally, the opportunity to travel) in some way. Zoology was an easy choice!october kalahari 175(1)

I’m a behavioural ecologist – I want to know why behaviours and traits evolve, and how those affect systems at every level. For me, it’s the ultimate integrative field – I’ve used genetic tools, classic behavioural studies, and now am moving into physiology too. All to answer the fundamental question of – why and how does individual X have more babies than individual Y? I love the field because it’s rooted in very simple “why?” questions – it keeps my job fun and creative!

My main interest is in the interactions between offspring and their parents/carers. Previously I’ve worked on the function of alloparental care in cooperative systems, and how this interacts with maternal investment and care behaviour. Now, I’m looking more at maternal effects – how the maternal environment influences offspring through non-genetic means. Right now I’m trying to find out how the stress that female lizards experience during gestation influences the next generation. We are only starting to understand the cross-generational effects of everything we do – lizards may seem a million miles from you or I, but the basic stress response is the same, so this work has the potential to illuminate how maternal stress influences offspring behaviour across species! This project is also focusing on the stress of invasive fire ants. As people move more around the globe, invasive species are becoming a greater threat to biodiversity. This project will help us to understand what some of those effects might be.

My ideal day off would include great food, and a hike in the woods – after all these years, I’m still most driven by getting out and experiencing nature!

Please welcome Kirsty to Real Scientists!

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