“Evolutionary Ecology of Leadership & Spatial Network Connections in Mammalian Societies”


“Group-living mammals face trade-offs associated with the costs of benefits of sociality. The emerging field of movement ecology provide a framework for understanding how individuals use movements to manage these trade-offs.”Here, I focus specifically on the role of leadership and spatial network connections in structuring these costs (e.g., parasite and disease transmission) and benefits (e.g., collective action) within mammalian societies.

  • First, I use a microevolutionary approach focusing on leadership decisions within the female-dominated societies of spotted hyenas.

  • Second, I establish a transdisciplinary framework to understand the emergence, distribution, power and evolutionary pay-offs of leadership across multiple domains using a macroevolutionary approach.

I apply this novel comparative framework to data derived from long-term studies on free-living non-human mammals (African elephants, bottlenose dolphins, chimpanzees, African lions, plains zebra, spotted hyenas, and white-faced capuchins) and small-scale human societies (The Ache, Cheyenne, Inuit, Kipsigis, Nootka, Pimbwe, Shoshone, and Tsimane).

Finally, I present preliminary data on a newly-funded field project focusing on the potential for kin-biased heterogeneity within spatial networks to mediate time-lagged ectoparasite (disease) transmission within free-living California ground squirrels.

The project integrates a novel automated-detection system for monitoring burrow use, social observations and tools from molecular genetics. Together, this body of work contributes to our broad understanding of the forces shaping the social lives of free-living mammalian societies, including humans.”

JENNIFER E. SMITH, Biology Department, Mills College


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