- Director, Program in African Studies
- Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
My research focuses on decision-making in animals. I study how an individual's foraging, mating and social behavior are influenced by its phenotype, by ecological circumstances, and by the actions of other individuals in the population. I develop simple mathematical models to generate predictions that can be tested using data gathered from structured field observations or experimental manipulations. In this way I search for general principles, or 'rules', that underlie complex patterns of behavior.
Much of my recent research on the adaptive value of behavior has centered on understanding the social dynamics of equids—horses, zebras and asses. My studies have shown that as the distributions of forage and water change, the patterns of female movement and association change. In turn, the ways in which males compete to mate with females also change. Thus ecological features play a large role in shaping equid core social groups.
But some harem dwelling equids, in particular the Plains zebras, exhibit additional layers of social structuring and my latest research shows that the force that matters most in determining whether or not herds form is a social one. The magnitude of the risk associated of a stallion being cuckolded determines whether or not harem males join together to form alliances. How risks are assessed, decisions are made and how conflicts of interest among individuals of differing phenotypes with differing needs are avoided is the focus of my ongoing research into the control of behavior.
Melding both functional and mechanistic approaches to studying animal behavior is an important problem in the emerging area of 'Biocomplexity' and is one that requires interdisciplinary studies that cut across many scales. My latest research focuses on one such problem—the rules governing animal movements and migration—and involves the interaction of 'self-organizing' behavioral movement rules, ecological information, and habitat structure at multiple spatial scales to understand how migratory animal movements respond to human induced land use change and how these changes in movement in turn affect population stability. Conservation implications are actively being explored.
News at Princeton, September 2013. Into the wild: Global Seminar takes budding filmmakers to Kenya's plains
"Realignments: A Zebra Story” examines the differences in appearance and behavior of the two zebra species in Kenya, providing insight into the endangerment of the Grevy's zebras and their uncertain future. Watch here!
"Nature's Nurturers" reveals the work of the Northern Kenya Conservation Clubs, focusing on the primary and secondary schools of Laikipia. Watch here!
National Research Council. 2013. Using science to improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A way forward.(PDF)
News at Princeton, February 20, 2012 Wildlife and cows can be partners, not enemies, in search for food
Towerview article, Duke University, February 2012 Wild Horses at Shackleford
NPR, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! April 2011 A Limerick about the Zebra barcode Scanner
Wired UK, April 2011 Biologists create barcode scanner for zebras
PBS World Focus, October 2009 - Prolonged drought devastates Kenyan People and Wildlife
PBS World Focus, October 2009 - Interview with Professor Dan Rubinstein>
CNN, April 24, 2008: If you were a zebra, how would you spend your days?
Science News, December 1, 2007: Social networking for zebras.
Princeton Weekly Bulletin, April 2007: Water in Africa Project
Princeton Weekly Bulletin, November 2002: NSF ZebraNet* project.
NSF Special Report "The Secret Lives of Wild Animals" features ZebraNet project.
Report by Linda Reifschneider for the American Zoological Association featuring my presentation at the AAAS 2006 Annual meeting: "Research Collaboration for Conservation: Zoos and Universities Working Together."
Click here for my publications webpage.