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Rebecca Kilner has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society

7.6.2021 | The Cambridge biologist was chosen for her work on how social behaviour drives evolutionary change.
Prof Rebecca Kilner
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(© Rebecca Kilner)

Prof Rebecca Kilner

Evolutionary biologist Rebecca Kilner finds herself among this year’s cohort of Royal Society Fellows, an honour bestowed on scientists who have made ‘a substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge’. She thus joins the ranks of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Lise Meitner, as well as over 60 living Nobel Prize Laureates.

Prof Kilner’s research focuses on the interplay between social behaviour and evolution, primarily in birds and burying beetles. She has shown how animal families balance the advantages and limitations of cooperation from an evolutionary perspective; for example, how siblings might compete for resources yet cooperate to obtain more food, or how loss of parental care can lead to changes in sibling rivalry.

She also studies how social behaviour might in turn affect evolution, such as how parental social behaviour can provide a mechanism for offspring to inherit non-genetic traits that will influence their survival and reproductive chances. For example, her work shows that a significant amount of phenotypic variation in offspring comes from variation in parental care.

Since her initial degree at the University of Oxford, Prof Kilner has been based at the University of Cambridge, including as a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow. She has been a full Professor of evolutionary biology since 2013, and in 2019 she was made Director of the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology. Being made Fellow of the Royal Society is the most recent addition to an impressive list of accolades, which also includes the Zoological Society of London’s Scientific Medal and the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

Prof Kilner becomes Royal Society Fellow alongside 51 other Fellows, ten Foreign Members and one Honorary Fellow.   (© AcademiaNet)

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