9th May 2016 – The Wytham Tit Project, University of Oxford

Wytham titsThe Wytham Tit Project is a long-term population study of great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) based at Wytham Woods near Oxford, UK, and is run by the Edward Grey Institute in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford. The project was set up in 1947 by John Gibb and David Lack, inspired by pioneering work by Kluijver in the Netherlands, in order to study the breeding biology of the great tit. Tits make excellent study species for ecological research as they readily take to artificial nest boxes, breed at high densities and cope well with being monitored. Lack initially put up 100 nest boxes in one section of Wytham Woods; the study was later expanded around 1960 to cover the entire 385-hectare woodland using over 1000 fixed location nest boxes. Over the last 57 years, we have monitored all the breeding attempts in these boxes and individually-marked all parents and offspring (spanning up to 40 generations), making this one of the longest running ecological studies of marked wild individual animals in the world.

Over these decades, scores of researchers, PhD students and undergraduates have used the Wytham tit system to explore a broad range of ecological questions, resulting in over 300 peer-reviewed publications. Some major themes of this work are (1) life-history biology, (2) response to climate change and the ecology of phenology (3) ecology and epidemiology of disease, (3) optimal foraging, (4) predator-prey interactions, (5) social behavior and spread of information through social networks, (6) the causes and consequences of individual variation in personality, and (7) quantitative and molecular genetics.

The 2016 breeding season is now well underway in Wytham Woods. Over 400 female tits have begun laying in our nest boxes and we expect another couple of hundred to start in the coming weeks. We already have our first hatchlings, which, over the next fortnight, will grow to c. 18 times their hatching weight before leaving the nest! Throughout the week we’ll be tweeting news and pictures from the woods (mainly tit-related but also other woodland activity) as well as facts, findings and videos about tit research. Tweeting will mainly be done by Dr Ella Cole (@EllaFCole, Research Fellow and tit project coordinator) and Prof Ben Sheldon (@Ben_Sheldon_EGI, Head of the Wytham Tit Project).

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