Dr Josh Firth

Junior Research Fellow in Zoology

I graduated from Sheffield University in 2012 and moved to Oxford to begin a DPhil investigating social networks within a wild bird system. My interests in social networks were furthered during an EGI Research Fellowship also based at Oxford University's Zoology Department. I joined Merton College as a Junior Research Fellow in October 2017 and was awarded a BBSRC Discovery Fellowship Grant in March 2019. 


My research is primarily aimed at understanding of how individual behaviour and ecology interact to shape social structure, and the consequences of this for processes in societies. Within my research, I use two overlapping approaches: First, I construct and apply a range of analytical methods (e.g. simulation modelling, big data processing), to examine how individual-level traits and ecological factors underpin social organisation, and to determine how social networks affect various biological processes. I apply this approach within simulated networks, as well as within large data sets detailing social associations within natural systems. Second, I design and implement methods for experimentally manipulating social networks of wild animal populations. This allows large-scale tests of sociality within natural ecological settings, and can elucidate the direct consequences of social associations for other aspects of life. Going forward, I particularly hope to combine these two approaches to address how individuals change their social behaviour with age, and how these age-related changes in sociality scale up to shape the structure and the functioning of societies.

Along with studying animal social networks, I enjoy collaborating across various topics in biology and beyond. My past (and ongoing) involvement with such projects has included investigating predator effects in fish, senescence in red deer, wild mice microbiome, the spread of conservation initiatives in Peru fisheries, and working with biomedical researchers in implementing big datasets to assess human health in relation to activity patterns, physical capacities and cognitive performance.


Selected recent publications

Firth JA. 2019. Considering complexity: animal social networks and behavioural contagions. Trends in Ecology & Evolution; In Press

Ioannou C, Rocque F, Herbert-Read J, Duffield C, Firth JA. 2019. Predators attacking virtual prey reveal the costs and benefits of leadership. PNAS; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1816323116

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; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12669

Firth, JA. et al. 2015. Experimental Evidence that Social Relationships Determine Individual Foraging Behavior. Current Biology; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.075

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; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2350

Firth, JA. et al. 2015. The influence of nonrandom extra-pair paternity on heritability estimates derived from wild pedigrees. Evolution; DOI: 10.1111/evo.12649