Rebecca Kilner

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Rebecca Kilner
04 Prof R Kilner.jpg
in the University Museum of Zoology bird store
Alma materUniversity of Oxford (BA) University of Cambridge (PhD)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge

Rebecca M. Kilner FRES is a British evolutionary biologist, and a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Cambridge.

Education and career[edit]

Kilner studied a BA in Zoology at the University of Oxford in 1992, and received a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at the University of Cambridge in 1996. She worked as a Junior Research Fellow at Magdelene College, Cambridge, and in 1998 was a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow; she was appointed Lecturer at the University of Cambridge in 2005 and a Reader in 2009.[1]

In 2013, Kilner was appointed Professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Cambridge,[2] and in 2019, Kilner was made a Director of the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology.[3]


Kilner's research looks at how social evolution can generate biodiversity and much of her work looks at burying beetles (Silphidae) and birds.

Her earlier research looked at birds that are brood parasites, which take advantage of other species' nests and parental care. In particular she found that cuckoos are able to produce eggs that mimic those of their host bird species.[4] Kilner found that cowbirds, which are also brood parasites, do not try to outcompete the host chicks that they hatch next to (as with cuckoos) and instead cowbirds do better when the host chicks remain.[5]

Parental care is common in burying beetles. Kilner's work on burying beetles has shown that beetle parents can produce a slime mixture that can influence bacteria communities on the meat they provide for their larval offspring; the bacteria aid digestion in the beetle stomach and prevent decomposition of the meat, so that beetle larvae grow larger and healthier.[6] She also examined what happens when parents are prevented from caring for larvae over 30 successive generations. She found that the beetle larvae evolved larger jaws to help them feed from carcasses better without help.[7] She also found that motherless beetle larvae were less competitive between each other and had higher survival rates than when mothered larvae had to cope alone.[8]

Her research with burying beetles has also shown that they can form symbiotic relationships with mites. Smaller beetles which lose out in fights with larger beetles can benefit from the phoretic mite Poecilochirus carabi, which helps them to warm up and enables them to win contests with other beetles for a carcass food source.[9]



  1. ^ "Professor Rebecca Kilner | Royal Society". Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  2. ^ Kilner, Professor Rebecca (2013-06-03). "Professor Rebecca Kilner". Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  3. ^ "Museum of Zoology appoints new director". Cambridge Independent. 2019-09-25. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  4. ^ "How the Cuckoo Wages an 'Evolutionary Arms Race'". ABC News. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  5. ^ "Parasitic birds 'happy to share'". 2004-08-06. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  6. ^ PennisiAug. 24, Elizabeth; 2017; Am, 11:21 (2017-08-24). "Burying beetles mix a special growth potion for their young: one part dead mice, many parts bacteria". Science | AAAS. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  7. ^ PennisiAug. 27, Elizabeth; 2018; Pm, 1:50 (2018-08-27). "When this beetle mom disappears, her children become stronger and nicer". Science | AAAS. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  8. ^ "Neglected baby beetles evolve greater self-reliance". Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  9. ^ Mighty mites give scrawny beetles the edge over bigger rivals, retrieved 2019-12-15
  10. ^ "Scientific Medal Winners" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  11. ^ "Royal Society announces recipients of prestigious Wolfson Research Merit Awards | Royal Society". Retrieved 2019-12-15.

External links[edit]