The badgers of Wytham woods: A model for behaviour, ecology, and evolution
Macdonald DW., Newman C.
The Wytham badger study was begun in earnest by Hans Kruuk in 1972, with David Macdonald his graduate student, and in turn Chris Newman, David's graduate student. Fifty years later they have documented the genealogy, births, deaths, and 'marriages' of over 1900 individuals. The book is a journey from the particular to the general, developing themes from a model species that grows from the authors' approach to The Badgers of Wytham Woods: A Model for Behaviour, Ecology, and Evolution. This accessible monograph engages 50 years of primary research woven around the badgers of Wytham Woods (Oxford, UK), covering topics as diverse as life history strategy, climate change biology, genetics, communication, senescence, immunology, endocrinology, and epidemiology. The book begins with aspects of individual behaviour, starting with the birth, early development, and then recruitment of youngsters into their social groups. In the quest to understand badger society and its adaptive significance, following chapters describe social networks, the social dynamics of badgers within those networks, and their communication, to ultimately evaluate the pros and, importantly, cons of group living. The account then turns to the paradoxical relationships between adjoining social groups, and then offers an ecological framework within which to interpret this sociology, explaining how group living can evolve facultatively and benefit a species equally adapted to living much less gregariously under other ecological circumstances. Next the story turns to population levels of analysis, exploring demography, the impacts of density, life history trade-offs (including pace of life theory), and extrinsic factors such as the weather. This population-level sequence of chapters leads to an account of diseases, immunology, and, specifically, the role of badgers as a reservoir for bovine tuberculosis, before moving to yet a different level-molecular. This continues to genetic selection and genealogy, and thence senescence, adding a bookend to the opening account of birth. The concluding chapter sets The Badgers of Wytham Woods in the framework of variation at two levels, intra-specific and inter-specific, which culminates in an exploration of a theme woven throughout the book: how badger society is an emergent outcome of ecology and the environmental conditions they experience, framed by the phylogeny of the Mustelidae and, more broadly, by mammalian evolution.