Gulls (Laridae) are one of only two modern families of birds known to have been around since the Late-Cretaceous period around 65 million years ago. They are found in a variety of environments, forage in mixed-species groups, and invest heavily in food stealing behaviours (kleptoparasitism).
Kleptoparasitism may be an important behaviour that has aided the longevity and radiation of these species. Some UK gull species have declined significantly over the last century making them a conservation priority.
These same species have shown population increases in urban areas. Invading novel environments, such as urban spaces, requires simultaneously solving a number of problems, the most pressing of which is finding food. In Rob's research he investigates the function of kleptoparasitism: if it allows gulls to respond adaptively to the vagaries of the environment bridging the gap between the environment of adaption and novel environments.
He will discuss research that examines differences in the rate of kleptoparasitism between traditional foraging ecologies and urban environments. He also investigates three ecological variables that assay conditions described by Brockmann and Barnard (1979) as facilitators of kleptoparasitism, and assess the extent that these variables predict kleptoparasitism in gull populations.
Rob Spencer is pursuing a PhD in Behavioural Ecology at Middlesex University. He has a bachelor's degree in History, a Graduate Diploma in Psychology from the University of East London, and an MSc in Evolutionary Psychology from Brunel University. He is interested in understanding the behaviours of generalist species that forage socially and invade, or inhabit, different environments. He uses observational methods, field experiments, and theoretical modelling to investigate the functional significance of the foraging behaviour of bird species of the family Laridae (gulls).
For his PhD Rob is assessing the ecological and social factors that influence kleptoparasitic behaviours in competitively asymmetric mixed-species foraging aggregations of gulls. The research is supervised by Tom Dickins (Middlesex University), Britta Osthaus (Canterbury Christchurch University), and Yvan Russell (Middlesex University).