Behavior is the primary means by which animals flexibly adapt to and exploit their environment. Animals respond behaviorally not only to their biological and physical environments but to their social environment as well. Indeed, for social animals, behavioral responses to the social environment may be just as important as responses to the physical environment.
How do these behavioral responses affect an animal’s life? What are the functional consequences – the consequences for survival and reproduction – of an animal’s behavior? What is the significance of behavioral differences between individuals, particularly differences in social behavior? Which behaviors affect fertility, longevity, or offspring survival, and which play only a neutral role in the animal’s life?
These are questions about how and why animal behavior has evolved, the central focus of the work in my lab. The research in my lab focuses on two populations of large mammals. For both populations, detailed life histories are available and observation conditions are very good. The savannah baboon population in Amboseli National Park, southern Kenya, has been the subject of ongoing research for over 30 years by the Amboseli Baboon Research Project. The elephant population in Amboseli has also been the subject of intensive behavioral and demographic research for 25 years, by the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. These two populations are among the best-studied mammal populations in the world and provide exceptional opportunities for understanding the relationships between social behavior, relatedness, and population genetic structure. My own work focuses mainly on the baboon population (I co-direct the Amboseli Baboon Research Project with Jeanne Altmann at Princeton University). Visit the baboon project website for more information.