Dr Josh Firth

Junior Research Fellow in Zoology

I graduated from Sheffield University in 2012 and moved to Oxford to begin a DPhil investigating the social lives of wild birds. After submitting my thesis, my interest in social networks was furthered during an 18 month EGI Research Fellowship also based at Oxford University's Zoology Department. I joined Merton College as a Junior Research Fellow in October 2017.


My primary interests lie in examining the consequences of social behaviour to gain new insights into the factors that shape social bonds and the structure of societies. I utilise a population of wild birds within Wytham Woods, Oxford, which offers the potential to investigate sociality in a uniquely intricate way due to two overlapping aspects:

Firstly, the population has been intensively studied over a long period. It now comprises of millions of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking records detailing the movements of thousands of interacting individuals over ten years. Due to the population’s long-term pedigree monitoring, some of these individuals belong to a family tree that can be traced back more than 50 generations. Therefore, I can use this extensive dataset to quantify how social networks are shaped by biological processes (such as environmental factors or individuals’ traits), as well as how sociality can carry over to influence various aspects of ecology.

Secondly, this system also offers a rare opportunity to experimentally manipulate social structure and directly test the consequences of social bonds. Using a range of different experiments, I examine how social connections carry-over into other contexts, the importance of social relationships for shaping individual behaviour, and the causal relationship between social networks and various other processes (such as the flow of information, the development of learning strategies, and social resilience).

I also hold general interests in foraging and mating decisions, quantitative genetics, and human behaviour.


Selected recent publications

Firth JA. et al. 2018. Personality shapes pair bonding in a wild bird social system. Nature Ecology & Evolution; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0670-8

Firth JA. et al. 2017. Indirectly connected: simple social differences can explain the causes and apparent consequences of complex social network positions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1939.

Bosse M, Spurgin LG, Laine VN, Cole EF, Firth JA. et al. 2017. Recent natural selection causes adaptive evolution of an avian polygenic trait. Science; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1939.

Firth JA. et al. 2017. Wild birds respond to flockmate loss by increasing their social network associations to others. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0299.

Firth, JA. & Sheldon, BC. 2016. Social carry-over effects underpin trans-seasonally linked structure in a wild bird population. Ecology Letters; 19 (11): 1324–1332

Firth, JA. et al. 2016. Pathways of information transmission amongst wild songbirds follow experimentally imposed changes to social foraging structure. Biology Letters; 12 (6): 20160144

Firth, JA. et al. 2015. Experimental Evidence that Social Relationships Determine Individual Foraging Behavior. Current Biology; 25 (23): 3138–43

Firth, JA. & Sheldon, BC. 2015. Experimental manipulation of avian social structure reveals segregation is carried over across contexts. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences; 282 (1802): 20142350

Firth, JA. et al. 2015. The influence of nonrandom extra-pair paternity on heritability estimates derived from wild pedigrees. Evolution; 69(5): 1336-44