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I understood
Rita Covas

Rita Covas

Principal Researcher

Principal Researcher
Member type
CIBIO-InBIO, Universidade do Porto, Campus de Vairão, Rua Padre Armando Quintas, 4485-661 Vairão, Portugal

My research interests are in behavioural and evolutionary ecology. I am broadly interested in the causes and consequences of sociality and cooperation, at the individual and population level. I also have a strong interest in adaptation to island environments and what this can teach us about the evolution of life-histories and behavioural traits. 

The main ongoing projects are:

1) Cooperation and population dynamics in the Sociable Weaver Philetairus socius

This is a long-term study into the evolution of cooperation and population dynamics in this species based at Benfontein Nature Reserve, near Kimberley, South Africa. The project shifted from a long-term focus on the costs and benefits of cooperative breeding, to a broader focus on different cooperative behaviours (e.g. nest building, roosting, vigilance) and social dynamics. One of our main focus currently (under a ERC grant) is studying the role of partner choice in the evolution of cooperation. This work is conducted in collaboration with several people, in particular Claire Doutrelant (CEFE-CNRS France), Matthieu Paquet (Swedish Agricultural University), Fanny Rybak (University of Paris-Sud) and Damien Farine (University of Zurich). See also

2) Sociality and conservation in Southern-Ground Hornbills Bucorvus leadbeateri

This research focuses on the Southern Ground-Hornbill’s social system, and the dynamics and benefits of group living. We are particularly interested in understanding whether cooperation helps Ground-Hornbills to cope with the weather extremes that they experience (and which are increasing under the climate emergency that our planet is facing). Our research uses a combination of long-term data, field observations and experiments and data ranges from behaviour to physiology. Given these birds endangered status in South Africa, our research is also used to inform conservation efforts, such as the re-introduction program ran by the Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project. This work is conducted in collaboration with Claire Spottiswoode (FitzPatrick Institute, UCT, South Africa and Cambridge University, UK), Fanny Rybak (University of Paris-Sud) and Susie Cunningham (FitzPatrick Institute, UCT). See also

3) Patterns and processes of adaptation in island birds. 

After colonising an island, species are believed to acquire a series of adaptations, loosely called ‘insularity syndrome’. Some of these adaptations are poorly understood and we have been conducting comparative studies of patterns and the underlying processes of evolution on islands birds worldwide regarding traits such as reproductive characteristics, ornamentation, immunity, and sociality. This study is based on museum collections, data from the literature and field data from several African islands. For this I collaborate with Claire Doutrelant, Matthieu Paquet (Swedish Agricultural University), Louis Bliard (University of Zurich), Michael Griesser (Max Planck Institute), Pierre-André Crochet (CEFE-CNRS, France) and Martim Melo (CIBIO-InBIO), and we were recently joined by post-docs Raquel Ponti de la Iglesia and Ana Leitão (both at based CIBIO).

Our research is funded by the ERC, Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT), DST/NRF Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town, Marie Curie and Widening Programs, the Basque Country (R. Ponti’s fellowhisp). Previous funders include Program Synthesys, the American Museum of Natural History and the National Geographic Society.

For more information about our projects or study or work opportunities please contact me by e-mail.
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