Image courtesy of Peter Milburn

Damien Farine wins 2019 ERC grant

Biologist at the interface of collective behaviour and ecology nabs prestigious European grant for early career researchers.

Dr. Damien Farine, a principal investigator from the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz, has been awarded a prestigious ERC Starting Grant. Announced today, the prominent grant—which includes 1.5 million euros in funding over the next 5 years—is designed to help early career scientists and scholars build their own teams and conduct pioneering research. There were 408 grants awarded out of a pool of 3106 applications from around the world. Farine, who also holds the position of Principal Investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior, is one of only two 2019 recipients of this grant at the University of Konstanz.

The ERC Starting Grant will allow Farine to conduct innovative and high-risk research that will have a major impact on our understanding of how animals successfully navigate complex social and physical environments. The grant will fund research on group-living birds in Kenya, where Farine seeks to understand how the past experiences of individuals, together with environmental conditions, affect leadership in animal groups. His ERC-funded project will combine state-of-the-art technological and scientific methods that will revolutionise the study of animal groups in the wild. In addition, the ERC Starting Grant will provide opportunities for young scientists, including Kenyan students, to undertake world-class research in Farine’s team.

“Receiving an ERC Starting Grant is an amazing opportunity,” says Farine. “It will allow me to answer questions about our natural world that we could only dream of asking just a few years ago.”

Farine’s research is at the forefront of the study of social and collective behaviours in wild populations. His research was the first to demonstrate that wild baboons make democratic decisions, and that wild birds copy the specific choices of their flock mates when learning new feeding techniques—studies published in journals Science and Nature, respectively. His achievements were acknowledged by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour who awarded Farine the 2018 Christopher Barnard Award for Outstanding Contributions by a New Investigator.

Farine’s lab, based at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, is globally known for its pioneering approaches to understanding the social lives of animals. The work by the Farine Lab typically involves collecting fine-scale data on social behaviour while following animal groups over the lifetimes of individuals. This allows him to understand how individuals’ prior experiences shape the groups they live in.

Farine originally studied Microelectronic Engineering and Computer Science in Australia. He moved to the University of Oxford, UK, where he completed a PHD in Zoology, then to the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis, USA, before establishing a research group on Social Evolutionary Ecology at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (now MPI of Animal Behavior).

The research Farine will undertake during his ERC Starting Grant will build on work he has been conducting with the Cluster of Excellence Center for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour, where he has been studying the emergence of groups and the costs that group-level behaviours can have on individuals. Currently, he is testing how stress transmits through social groups, as part of a transdisciplinary collaboration with experimental psychologists.


  • Damien Farine has been awarded a prestigious European Research Centre (ERC) Starting Grant
  • In total, 408 applications by scientists from over 50 countries were selected  from a pool of 3106.
  • Funding period: 5 years; Funding amount: 1.5 million euros
  • Damien Farine is a Principal Investigator of the new Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz.
  • Damien Farine is also a principal investigator in the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Konstanz, where his lab is based.