Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Organisation: University of Manchester
Dates: Jan 2013-Dec 2017
Summary: Humans are, with a very few exceptions, highly social species. My research focuses on understanding what makes primate sociality distinct from other taxa, why and how humans have been able to develop large complex societies, and how species cope with environmental change and unpredictability. There are several parallel themes to my research program. At a macroevolutionary level, our work focuses on understanding the emergence of social living and cooperation in vertebrates. We use evolutionary reconstruction to identify the factors that are important in the evolution of complex societies. We also use paleoclimate and population reconstruction to understand the ecological challenges faced by early hominins. At the population level, we are interested in how social networks are associated with population performance. At the individual level, we are interested in how physiology interacts and responds to the social environment. At the gene level, we are interested in genome evolution in genes associated the hormone receptors that regulate and control social behaviour. Together, this research help unravel the mystery of human origins. Moreover, our work understanding the genetic changes leading to sociality can be extended to evaluate genome evolution in humans and how hormone receptor variation is associated with psychological and physiological health.
Scheme: Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship
Dates: Apr 2009-Dec 2012
Summary: My current research interests focus on the evolution of behavioural complexity and flexibility with the ultimate goal to understand the adaptive benefits and evolutionary pathways driving changes in cognitive architecture across primates and other vertebrates. There are several parallel themes to this research program.
The first is investigating evolutionary trends in brain size and architecture. Despite brain tissue being metabolically costly, relative brain size has increased over evolutionary time across mammalian taxa. Using a comparative approach, we test explicit adaptive hypotheses for the evolution of brain size and architecture. The second theme is to develop and use network theory to evaluate social complexity through measures of stability and structuring in animal populations. We are currently developing this approach by assessing responses across ecological gradients. Equids are the current model system, due to the availability of data across wide ecological gradients, but the objective is to extend these analyses to evaluate variation in primate network structure. The third theme is to understand macroevolutionary trends in social behaviour using Bayesian and comparative approaches. Recent work has reconstructed major evolutionary transitions in sociality in primates and related these patterns to ecology and morphology. A fourth theme is exploring the physiological basis for behavioural variation both at the individual and species level. Finally, I am supervising projects that evaluate how species characteristics affect their sensitivity to environmental change.