Professor Andrew Cockburn ‘Love Life of Blue Wrens’

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Thursday, 5 August 2021 - 12:30pm to 1:30pm

Andrew, is an Emeritus Professor at ANU where his research centres on the evolution of mating systems in birds. DNA fingerprinting of fairy wrens debunked the myth that these birds lived in faithful monogamous pairs. But why are the birds in declining numbers?

Biography   After an honours degree in botany and a PhD in zoology from Monash University, Andrew moved to UC Berkeley to study population dynamics in microtine rodents. He soon realized the error of his ways, and returned to Australia to study life history evolution and behavioural ecology of Antechinus, a bizarre group of marsupials that exhibit semelparity. All males plunge to their deaths immediately after mating. This not only requires special explanation, but also allows clear tests of otherwise intractable hypotheses, because the extreme simplicity of the life history throws several issues into sharp relief. After postdocs at Monash, CSIRO Wildlife & Ecology, and RSBS ANU, Andrew got a real job in the Department of Zoology at ANU, which allowed him to pursue a growing interest in studies of lifetime reproductive performance in free-living animals. After studying antechinuses for almost a decade, he realised that he was not having nearly as much fun tramping through leech-infested rainforest, as one of his graduate students who was teasing apart the intricate sex lives of superb fairy-wrens in the croissant-infested Botanic Gardens in Canberra. Andrew has now worked on fairy-wrens for more than two decades, seeking an answer to the centrally important questions of the benefits that females obtain from discrimination among mates, the implications of those benefits for understanding the maintenance of genetic variation, and the evolution of the extraordinarily complex societies of cooperatively breeding birds. Along the way he was head of the School of Botany and Zoology for 13 years, Dean of Science for a year, and the Director of the ANU College of Medicine, Biology & Environment from June 2009 - April 2014.  (

This talk will be held in the ANBG Theatrette.

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