Updated May 2012


Dr. Elisabeth Bolund

Career Research Interests Publications Presentations Awards Media

Post-doctoral Research Associate

Contact information:

Elisabeth Bolund, PhD
Department of Animal and Plant Sciences
University of Sheffield
Western Bank
Sheffield S10 2TN
United Kingdom
tel. +44 (0)114222 0073
e-mail. e.bolund@sheffield.ac.uk


  • 2011 – Present, Post-doctoral research associate at Sheffield University, United Kingdom Project: “Sexually antagonistic selection in Humans
  • 2010 Field assistant for Nina Svedin and Simon Griffith at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
  • 2009 – 2010 Post-doctoral research associate at the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. Project: “The function of song in zebra finches
  • 2005 – 2009 PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany and the Ludwig-Maximilian Universität München, Munich, Germany. Dissertation: ‘Condition dependence and fitness consequences of sexual traits in zebra finches’ Supervisors by Dr. Wolfgang Forstmeier and Prof. Dr. Bart Kempenaers
  • 2000 – 2004 Degree of Master of Science in Biology, Uppsala University, Sweden. Thesis: ‘The quality of the food influences feeding rate but not chick condition in the collared flycatcher: Ficedula albicollis.’ Supervisor Prof. Lars Gustafson

Research interests:

Current project:

Humans offer an exciting new study system for me to apply an evolutionary perspective to questions that have traditionally not been regarded in an evolutionary frame work. I hope to contribute to the growing understanding of humans as a species among other species by exploring the possibilities and limitations of an evolutionary approach to human behaviour in general and the interplay between the sexes in particular.

Thus, in my current project, I aim to understand past and present evolutionary patterns and sex differences in humans. The idea that a trait can be beneficial in one sex but detrimental in the other, resulting in a sexual conflict and hence different selection pressures in the two sexes, has received tremendous attention in the field of evolutionary biology. However, despite widespread general interest in sex differences in humans within the social sciences and evolutionary psychology fields, the genetic basis of sexual conflict remains unaddressed in humans. I use an extensive dataset to, first, investigate if sexual conflict on the genetic level has been present historically in a human population, and second, to investigate how the patterns of sexual conflict have changed over time as the population has gone through extensive environmental and social changes over the past 200 years.

PhD and first postdoc:

The focus of my work was on sexual selection within a behavioural and evolutionary framework. I have used large-scale breeding experiments in a laboratory population of zebra finches to address fundamental questions that remain unanswered despite decades of research on this model organism in studies of sexual selection in monogamous species. My studies of sexual selection in zebra finches lead to a re-interpretation of the function of several key traits in this model organism. The focus of my PhD was to perform a rigorous investigation of how male zebra finches achieve reproductive success. To do this, I evaluated the signalling value of candidate traits and investigated the mechanisms that lead to reproductive success through both intra- and intersexual selection. This work included the use of a quantitative genetic approach to look at selection pressures under semi-natural aviary conditions. Further, I tested both the early condition dependence and amount of inbreeding depression of a broad range of traits so that I could compare both the environmental and the genetic condition dependence of sexual and nonsexual traits and between traits in males and females. I found that zebra finches are remarkably resilient to developmental stress and that inbreeding is an effective means to study the genetic condition dependence of sexual traits. Lastly, female reproductive investment can be influenced by male quality. In contrast to previous studies, I found that females invested more when paired to a less attractive male.
My post-doc position continued this work and delved deeper into elucidating the function of song in zebra finches. I found that singing activity does not increase paternity success but rather functions in reproductive stimulation of the partner. To study song complexity rather than singing activity, I used a quantitative genetic approach to study the potential for song complexity to honestly signal genetic or environmental quality, to attract females and to result in increased paternity.


  • Bolund, E., Schielzeth, H., Forstmeier, W. 2012. Singing activity stimulates partner reproductive investment rather than increasing paternity success in zebra finches. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. In press. DOI 10.1007/s00265-012-1346-z
  • Bolund, E., Schielzeth, H. & Forstmeier, W.2011. Correlates of male fitness in the zebra finch – a comparison of methods to disentangle genetic and environmental effects. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 11:327.
  • Forstmeier, W., Martin, K., Bolund, E., Schielzeth, H., Kempenaers, B. 2011. Female extra-pair mating behavior can evolve via indirect selection on males. PNAS, 108-26, 10608-10613.
  • Schielzeth, H., Bolund, E., Kempenaers, B. and Forstmeier, W. 2011. Quantitative genetics and fitness consequences of neophilia in zebra finches. Behavioral Ecology, 22-1, 126-134.
  • Bolund, E., Schielzeth, H. and Forstmeier, W. 2010. No heightened condition dependence of zebra finch ornaments - a quantitative genetic approach. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 23, 586-597
  • Bolund, E., Martin, K., Kempenaers, B. and Forstmeier, W. 2010. Inbreeding depression of sexually selected traits and attractiveness in the zebra finch. Animal Behaviour, 79, 947-955.
  • Schielzeth, H. and Bolund, E. 2010. Patterns of conspecific brood parasitism in zebra finches. Animal behaviour, 79: 1329-1337
  • Schielzeth, H., Bolund, E. and Forstmeier, W. 2010. Heritability of and early environment effects on variation in mating preferences. Evolution 64-4: 998-1006
  • Backström N, Forstmeier W, Schielzeth H, Mellenius H, Nam K, Bolund E, Webster M. T, Öst T, Schneider M, Kempenaers B, Ellegren H. 2010. The recombination landscape of the zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata genome. Genomeresearch 20: 485-495
  • Bolund, E., Schielzeth, H. and Forstmeier, W. 2009. Compensatory investment in zebra finches: females lay larger eggs when paired to sexually unattractive males. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 276:707-715
  • Schielzeth H, Burger C, Bolund E, Forstmeier W. 2008. Assortative versus disassortative mating preferences of female zebra finches based on self-referent phenotype matching. Animal Behaviour 76:1927-1934
  • Schielzeth, H., Burger, C., Bolund, E. and Forstmeier, W. 2008. Sexual imprinting on continuous variation: Do female zebra finches prefer or avoid unfamiliar sons of their foster parents? Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21: 1274-1280
  • Bolund, E., Schielzeth, H. and Forstmeier, W. 2007. Intrasexual competition in zebra finches, the role of beak colour and body size. Animal Behaviour 74: 715-724.


    • Annual European Meeting of Students in Evolutionary Biology 2005, Bordeaux, France
    • International society for behavioural ecology 2006, Tour, France
    • International ornithological conference 2006, Hamburg, Germany
    • Edward Grey institute for field ornithology 2007, Oxford, UK
    • European society for evolutionary biology 2007, Uppsala, Sweden
    • International society for behavioural ecology 2008, Ithaca, USA
    • The association for the study of animal behaviour summer conference 2009, Oxford, UK
    • International society for behavioural ecology 2010, Perth, Australia


  • Doctoral thesis awarded with the Munich Graduate School for Evolution, Ecology and Systematics 2009 Young researcher Prize for PhD students (€ 1,500).
  • EGI meeting, Oxford, Great Britain, 2007. Award for ‘Best oral presentation’.

The Media:

I am committed to the public awareness of science. I have written media releases for each of my published articles. Several of my articles have, after additional telephone and radio interviews, appeared in the popular media (e.g. in the American ‘Discover magazine’ and ‘Science news’, in the British ‘Metro UK online edition’, in the Swedish leading newspapers ‘Svenska Dagbladet’ and ‘Dagens nyheter’, in the German newspaper ‘Die Welt’ and scientific magazine ‘scinexx’, as well as on web pages such as ‘Science Daily’ and the German ‘Wissenschaft.de’).