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Institute of Ecology and Evolution


Dr. Fabrice Helfenstein

To webpage of the Evolutionary Ecology Lab


University of Bern
Institute of Ecology and Evolution
Evolutionary Ecology Lab
Baltzerstrasse 6
3012 Bern

Office D 209

Tel +41 (0)31 631 3019
Fax +41 (0)31 631 3008 (secretary)

fabrice.helfenstein <at> free.fr


I am broadly interested in sexual selection. My work has primarily focused on individual quality and the potential for mate choice in the colonial black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, in which we found that individuals do not adjust their mate choice by copulating outside the pairbond, and are thus under strong selective pressure to optimally choose their mate. Further work now focuses on the criteria used by male and female kittiwakes in choosing their partner.

My main research area now deals with sperm traits - morphology, swimming ability, longevity - which determine male fertilisation success, i.e. sperm competitive ability. More precisely, I investigate how oxidative stress influences sperm quality and how it may mediate the relationships between sperm quality, sexual ornaments and male social status. I explore these questions in territorial (great tits Parus major, PhD by Sylvain Losdat) and colonial (house sparrows Passer domesticus) birds and polygynous tropical bats (PhD by Nicolas Fasel).

Curriculum vitae


Losdat S, Helfenstein F, Saladin V & Richner H. 2011. Higher in vitro resistance to oxidative stress in extra-pair offspring. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 24:2525-2530. Link

Leclaire S, Bourret V, Wagner RH, Hatch SA, Helfenstein F, Chastel O & Danchin E. 2011. Behavioral and physiological response to male handicap in chick-rearing black-legged kittiwake. Behavioral Ecology, 22:1156-1165. Link

Losdat S, Helfenstein F, Gaude B & Richner H. 2011. Reproductive effort transiently reduces antioxidant capacity in a wild bird. Behavioral Ecology, 22:1218-1226. Link

Losdat S, Richner H, Blount JD & Helfenstein F. 2011. Immune activation reduces sperm quality in the great tit . PLoS ONE, 6: e22221. Link

Losdat S, Helfenstein F, Gaude B & Richner H. 2010. Effect of sibling competition and male carotenoid supply on offspring condition and oxidative stress. Behavioral Ecology, 21: 1271-1277. pdf

Leclaire S, Helfenstein F, Degeorges A, Wagner RH & Danchin E. 2010. Family size and sex-specific parental effort in black-legged kittiwakes. Behaviour, 147: 1841-1862. pdf

Helfenstein F, Losdat S, Møller AP, Blount JD & Richner H. 2010. Sperm of colourful males are better protected against oxidative stress. Ecology Letters, 13: 213-222. pdf

Media coverage: BBC New Scientist Nature National Geographic

Helfenstein F, Podevin M & Richner H. 2010. Sperm morphology, swimming velocity and longevity in the house sparrow Passer domesticus. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 64: 557-565. pdf

Mulard H, Danchin E, Talbott S, Ramey A, Hatch SA, White JF, Helfenstein F & Wagner RH. 2009. Evidence that pairing with genetically similar mates is maladaptive in a monogamous bird. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 9: 147. Pdf

Helfenstein F, Szép T, Nagy Z, Kempenaers B & Wagner RH. 2008. Between-male variation in sperm size, velocity and longevity in sand martins Riparia riparia. Journal of Avian Biology, 39: 647-652. pdf

White JF, Wagner RH, Helfenstein F, Hatch SA, Mulard H, Naves LC & Danchin E. 2008. Multiple deleterious effects of experimentally aged sperm in a monogamous bird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. Pdf

Helfenstein F, Losdat S, Saladin V & Richner H. 2008. Females of carotenoid-supplemented males are more faithful and produce better quality offspring. Behavioral Ecology. pdf

Berthouly A, Helfenstein F, Tanner M & Richner H. 2008. Sex-related effects of maternal egg investment on offspring in relation to carotenoid availability in the great tit. Journal of Animal Ecology, 77: 74-82. pdf

Helfenstein F, Berthouly A, Tanner M, Karadas F & Richner H. 2008. Nestling begging activity and parental effort in relation to pre-laying carotenoid availability. Behavioral Ecology, 19: 108-115 pdf

Berthouly A, Helfenstein F, & Richner H. 2007. Cellular immune response, stress resistance and competitiveness in nestling great tits in relation to maternally transmitted carotenoids. Functional Ecology, 21: 335-343. Pdf

Helfenstein F, Danchin E & Wagner RH. 2004. Assortative mating and sexual size dimorphism in kittiwakes. Waterbirds, 27: 350-354 Pdf

Helfenstein F, Danchin E & Wagner RH. 2004. Is male unpredictability a paternity assurance strategy ? Behaviour, 141: 675-690. Pdf

Wagner RH, Helfenstein F & Danchin E. 2004. Choice for young sperm by monogamous female kittiwakes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B (Supplement), 271: S134-S137. Pdf

Helfenstein F, Tirard C, Danchin E & Wagner RH. 2004. Low frequency of extra-pair paternity and high frequency of adoption in Black-Legged Kittiwakes. The Condor, 106: 150-157. Pdf

Helfenstein F, Wagner RH & Danchin E. 2003. Sexual conflict over sperm ejection in monogamous pairs of kittiwakes. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 54: 370-376. Pdf

Helfenstein F, Wagner RH, Danchin E & Rossi JM. 2003. Functions of courtship feeding in black-legged kittiwakes: natural and sexual selection. Animal Behaviour, 65: 1027-1033. Pdf

Tirard C, Helfenstein F & Danchin E. 2002. Polymorphic microsatellites in Rissa tridactyla. Molecular Ecology Notes, 2: 431-433. Pdf

Wagner RH, Danchin E, Boulinier T & Helfenstein F. 2000. Colonies as byproducts of commodity selection. Behavioral Ecology, 11: 572-573. Pdf

University of Bern | Institute of Ecology and Evolution | Baltzerstrasse 6 | CH-3012 Bern | Tel +41 (0)31 631 4511
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