Dr Ella Cole

Dr Ella Cole

Ella Cole


Name: Dr Ella Cole
Position: EGI Senior Researcher and Research Coordinator
Email: eleanor.cole@zoo.ox.ac.uk


I graduated from Oxford University in 2007 with a BA in Biological Sciences. In the following autumn I joined the EGI as a DPhil student supervised by Dr John Quinn, studying personality and cognitive variation amongst wild great tits (Parus major). After completing my DPhil in 2012 I worked on several projects, first developing and trialling methods for measuring individuals differences in learning ability in great tits in the wild (Leverhulme Trust-funded grant to Dr John Quinn) and then exploring spatial components of plasticity in tit phenology (NERC-funded grant to Prof Ben Sheldon). In autumn 2015 I began a Research Fellowship position at the EGI, extending and building on my work using the tri-trophic system of tits, caterpillars and oaks trees to examine phenotypic responses to changing climate.


My main research interest is exploring the causes of small-scale spatial variation in spring phenology of trees, insects and birds in order to better understand the scale at which natural selection acts on plasticity in birds. I use long term data on great and blue tit breeding behaviour and fitness, together with detailed environmental data to analyse the spatial scales at which variation in bird reproductive timing can best be explained, and to test hypotheses about the influence of scale on fitness and population dynamics. I am also interesting in understanding what factors may constrain birds’ ability to response to changing climates. I currently co-supervise one DPhil student, Emily Simmonds, who is exploring developmental constraints on phenological adaptation in great tits.

I also have an on-going interest in understanding how consistent individual differences in cognitive performance influence behaviour and reproductive success in the wild, and ultimately how cognitive processes are shaped by natural selection. In collaboration with Dr Julie Morand-Ferron (University of Ottawa) and Dr John Quinn (University College Cork) I have been involved with developing automated devices for measuring individual learning ability in the wild. This work was recently featured in a four-part mini-series on research at Wytham Woods (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRRPUGEB7dY).

I have supervised a number of undergraduate research projects and welcome project suggestions from current Oxford students.


Cole, E.F., Long, P., Zelazowski, P., Szulkin, M., Sheldon, B.C. 2015. Predicting bird phenology from space: Satellite-derived vegetation green-up signal uncovers spatial variation in phenological synchrony between birds and their environment. Ecol. Evol. 2015. 10.1002/ece3.1745.

Morand-Ferron, J., Hamblin, S., Cole, E. F., Aplin, L. M., & Quinn, J. L. 2015. Taking the Operant Paradigm into the Field: Associative Learning in Wild Great Tits. PloS one10(8), e0133821.

Kidd, L. R., Sheldon, B. C., Simmonds, E. G., & Cole, E. F. 2015. Who escapes detection? Quantifying the causes and consequences of sampling biases in a long‐term field study. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12411

Hinks, A. E.*, Cole, E. F.*, Daniels, K. J., Wilkin, T. A., Nakagawa, S., & Sheldon, B. C. 2015. Scale-Dependent Phenological Synchrony between Songbirds and Their Caterpillar Food Source. · DOI: 10.1086/681572

Morand‐Ferron, J., Cole, E. F., & Quinn, J. L. 2015. Studying the evolutionary ecology of cognition in the wild: a review of practical and conceptual challenges.Biological Reviews. DOI: 10.1111/brv.12174

Quinn, J. L., Cole, E. F., & Morand-Ferron, J. 2014. Studying microevolutionary processes in cognitive traits: a comment on Rowe and Healy.Behavioral Ecology, aru141.

Cole, E. F. & Quinn, J. L. 2014. Shy birds play it safe: personality in captivity predicts risk responsiveness during reproduction in the wild. Biology Letters,10: 20140178.

Aplin, L. M., Farine, D. R., Morand‐Ferron, J., Cole, E. F., Cockburn, A., & Sheldon, B. C. 2013. Individual personalities predict social behaviour in wild networks of great tits (Parus major). Ecology letters, 16: 1365-1372.

Cole, E.F., Morand-Ferron, J., Hinks, A.E. & Quinn, J.L. 2012. Cognitive ability influences reproductive life history variation in the wild. Current Biology, 22: 1808-1812.

Quinn, J. L., Cole, E. F., Bates, J., Payne, R. W. & Cresswell, W. 2012. Personality predicts individual responsiveness to the risks of starvation and predation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 279: 1919-1926.

Cole, E. F. & Quinn, J. L. 2012. Personality and problem-solving performance explain competitive ability in the wild. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 279:1168-1175.

Morand-Ferron, J., Cole, E.F., Rawles, J.E.C, & Quinn, J.L. 2011. Who are the innovators? A field experiment with two passerine species. Behavioural Ecology, 22: 1241-1248.

Dunn, J.C., Cole, E.F. & Quinn, J.L. 2011. Personality and parasites: Sex-dependent associations between avian malaria infection and multiple behavioural traits. Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology, 65: 1459-1471.

Quinn, J.L., Cole, E.F., Patrick, S. & Sheldon, B.C. 2011. Scale and state-dependence of the relationship between personality and dispersal in a great tit population. Journal of Animal Ecology, 80: 918–928.

Cole, E.F., Cram. D., & Quinn, J.L. 2011. Individual variation in spontaneous problem-solving performance among wild great tits. Animal Behaviour, 81: 491-498.

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