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Clemens Küpper

DAAD Postdoctoral Fellow

Ph.D. University of Bath, UK

MCZ Room 500C
Tel:  +1-617-496-9389
Fax: +1-617-495-5667                       

email: ckuepper(at)


2004 – 2008             PhD in Biology, University of Bath, UK
2000 – 2001             Masters in Biology, University of Vienna, Austria




Research Interests

I’m interested in the evolution of social behaviors, especially behavior associated with mating and care.

Every biological trait is shaped by environment and genetic information. However, to which extent genes and environment affect different traits varies greatly in nature. In my current work I try to characterize the genetic and phylogenetic bases of traits involved in reproduction and fitness. This includes morphological, life history and behavioral traits. During my PhD I developed molecular markers for non-model organisms that can assist in this process and I am collecting genetic samples from different bird populations from all over the world. 

My favorite study organisms are small beach and wetland birds, the Charadrius plovers. Plovers are found in many places all over the world and I have studied plovers with collaborators in Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and Australia. Plovers are fascinating creatures. Some have remarkable variable breeding systems that differ even between populations of the same species. One of my current goals is to establish the phylogeography for one of the most reproductively flexible species, the Kentish plover superspecies complex. During, my PhD I found that the American populations which are commonly called ‘snowy plover’ are phenotypically and genetically distinct from Eurasian populations which are called ‘Kentish plover’ and deserve to be considered as a full species on their own. Recognizing the snowy plover as a species in it's own right will help the conservation of this threatened bird who is endemic to the Americas.

The different members of the Kentish plover superspecies complex have colonized all continents except Antarctica. These plovers have a very interesting family life that sheds light on the evolution of parental cooperation and conflict. Some families are attended by both parents, but in many families one of the parents (usually the female) abandons the brood and starts a new family with another male. The desertion happens usually around the time of hatching of the chicks. Whether parents cooperate for brood care or not depends on many factors which are still not fully understood. Using a phylogeography based on multiple DNA markers I rey to find the origin of the species complex and follow its colonization routes that have led to the present day distribution. The map is going to be the base to investigate how phenotypic traits such as morphological characters, plumage and behavior associated with reproductive behavior have evolved into their present forms and whether certain lineages of plovers are more prone for parental cooperation than others.

My second interest involves the evolutionary genetics of breeding system traits. Breeding systems comprise mating and care strategies within a population. They harbor many traits that are sexually selected. This work is conducted at Bahía de Ceuta in Sinaloa which harbors one of the largest snowy plover breeding populations at the Pacific and intense surveys of behaviour have been carried out since 2006. Every adult and chick is marked with color and metal bands and together with local students and collaborators we follow their fates over the breeding season. Snowy plovers are sexually reversed, that means the females are more emancipated than in most other species. In contrast to females, males are often left to bring up the young alone and struggle to find new partners. My goal is to identify social, environmentally and particularly genetic factors that influence the breeding system traits characteristic for sex role reversal. In this project we aim to combine long-term field investigations of individually marked breeding snowy plovers in Northwest Mexico with laboratory studies using multiple genetic markers.

Snowy plover fieldwork is adventurous and often very exciting. It is one of the rare occasions to experience incredible wildlife and learn more about the life, behavior and challenges of wild animals. If you want to get a flavour about our work in Mexico or the amazing life of snowy plovers visit our website at During the field season from April to July we frequently update the pages - it pays off to check frequently.



  • AlRashidi M, Kosztolányi A, Küpper C, Shobrak S, Székely T (2011) The effect of nest-cover on biparental care in an extreme hot environment. Animal Behaviour (in press)

  • Küpper C, Aguilar E, González O (2011) Notas sobre la ecología reproductiva y conservación de los chorlos nevados Charadrius nivosus occidentalis en Paracas, Perú Revista Peruana de Biología (in press)

  • Kosztolányi A, Barta Z, Küpper C, Székely T (2011) Adult sex ratio in a polyandrous shorebird, the Kentish plover. Journal of Evolutionary Biology (in press)

  • Küpper C, Kosztolányi A, Augustin J, Dawson DA, Burke T, Székely T (2010) Heterozygosity-fitness correlations of conserved microsatellite markers in Kentish plovers Charadrius alexandrinus. Molecular Ecology 19:5172-5187

  • Dos Remedios N, Lee PLM, Dawson DA, Székely T, Küpper C (2010) Molecular sex-typing in shorebirds: a review of an essential method for research in evolution, ecology and conservation. Wader Study Group Bulletin 117:109-118

  • St Clair JJH, Küpper C, Herrmann P, Woods RW,  Székely T (2010) Unusual incubation sex-roles in the Rufous-chested Dotterel Charadrius modestus. Ibis 152:402-404

  • Dawson DA, Horsburgh GJ, Küpper C, Stewart IRK, Ball AD, Durrant KL, Hansson B, Bacon I, Bird S, Klein A, Krupa AP, Lee JW, Martín-Gálvez D, Simeoni M, Smith G, Spurgin LG, Burke T (2010) New methods to identify conserved microsatellite loci and develop primer sets of high cross-species utility – as demonstrated for birds. Molecular Ecology Resources 10:475-494

  • Alrashidi M, Kosztolányi A, Küpper C, Cuthill IC, Javed S, Székely T (2010) The influence of a hot environment on parental cooperation of a ground-nesting shorebird, the Kentish plover Charadrius alexandrinus. Frontiers in Zoology 7:1

  • Küpper C, Augustin J, Kosztolányi A, Burke T, Figuerola J, Székely T (2009) Kentish versus snowy plover: Phenotypic and genetic analyses of Charadrius alexandrinus reveal divergence of Eurasian and American subspecies. Auk 126:839−852

  • Klein A, Horsburgh GJ, Küpper C, Major A, Lee PLM, Hoffmann G, Mátics R, Dawson DA (2009) Microsatellite markers characterized in the barn owl (Tyto alba) are of high-utility in other owls (Strigiformes: AVES). Molecular Ecology Resources 9:1512-1519

  • Kosztolányi A, Javed S, Küpper C, Cuthill IC, Al Shamsi A, Székely T (2009) Breeding ecology of Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus in an extremely hot environment. Bird Study 56:244-252

  • Küpper C, Burke T,  Székely T,  Dawson DA.  (2008) Enhanced cross-species utility of conserved microsatellite markers in shorebirds and allies. BMC Genomics 9:502

  • Székely T, Kosztolányi A , Küpper C, Thomas G (2007) Sexual conflict over parental care: a case study of shorebirds. Journal of Ornithology 148:S211–S217

  • Küpper C, Horsburgh GJ, Dawson DA, Székely T, ffrench-Constant R, Burke T (2007) Characterisation of 36 polymorphic microsatellite loci in the Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) including two sex-linked loci and their amplification in four other Charadrius species. Molecular Ecology Notes 7:35-39

  • Küpper C, Kis J, Kosztolányi A, Székely T, Cuthill IC, Blomqvist D (2004) Genetic mating system and timing of extra-pair fertilizations in the Kentish plover. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 57:32-39

  • Blomqvist D, Andersson M, Küpper C, Cuthill IC, Kis J, Lanctot RB, Sandercock BK, Székely T, Wallander J, Kempenaers B (2003) Why do birds engage in extra-pair copulations? Reply. Nature 422:833-834

  • Blomqvist D, Andersson M, Küpper C, Cuthill IC, Kis J, Lanctot RB, Sandercock BK, Székely T, Wallander J, Kempenaers B (2002) Genetic similarity between mates and extra-pair parentage in three species of shorebirds. Nature 419:613-615


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