Helen Ward

School of Biological & Chemical Sciences
Fogg Building
Queen Mary, University of London
Mile End Road
London, E1 4NS
United Kingdom
Tel: (0)20 7882 7528 or ext. 4787
email: h.l.ward@qmul.ac.uk


What do women want? Female mate choice in greater horseshoe bats.

Supervised by Dr. Steve Rossiter (QMUL) and Dr. James Cotton (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute)
In collaboration with Dr Roger Ransome (BatPro Ltd/University of Bristol) and Professor Gareth Jones (University of Bristol).

Funded by NERC with BatPro Ltd as a CASE partner.

Female mate choice is when females show active preference for mating with particular males. Why and how females execute preferences, however, remains elusive. I study these questions in a British population of Rhinolophus ferrumequinum, the greater horseshoe bat (GHB) where intriguing patterns of mate choice, including mate fidelity and intra-lineage polygyny, have already been observed.

In many mammals males are the larger sex and can constrain female mate choice. GHBs, however, show reverse sexual size dimorphism. What’s more, female bats live separately from males for most of the year, only dispersing to the caves of solitary males during the mating season. Female GHBs are also able to store sperm for over 6 months prior to egg fertilization, allowing ample opportunity for post-copulatory sperm selection.

Research objectives: I am currently constructing a multi-generational pedigree for our focal greater horseshoe bat population using microsatellite and behavioural data. I intend to use this pedigree to identify and explain patterns of female mate choice within the population, with particular consideration given to the indirect benefits females gain by mating with particular males. Initially I shall concentrate on genes encoding Major Histocompatibility Complex proteins, involved in the immune system, and genes encoding reproductive proteins, involved in the storage, transfer and fertilization of gametes. I also hope to estimate the heritability of life-history, behavioural and morphological traits in the population.

Wider interests

Although my research focuses on bats and mate choice, my interests could broadly be defined as ‘biology'(!). Forced to refine this declaration I would say that my primary interests lie in the realm of behavioural ecology and, yet more specifically, on the subject of sex. I find all matters of pre- and post-copulatory selection fascinating.

I am also concerned with how an understanding of behavioural ecology and genetics might help us to protect and conserve species in light of global threats including the growing human population and climate change.

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