Human Evolutionary Ecology

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This novel paradigm of evolutionary anthropology focuses on human ecology (human diversity, life history, demography, behaviour and also culture) from an adaptive perspective. The research group is co-directed by Ruth Mace, Andrea Migliano and Lucio Vinicius. We use a combination of behavioural ecological modelling, field studies (including ‘natural experiments’), careful statistical analyses of longitudinal demographic datasets, and phylogenetic cross-cultural comparative methods to explore the extent to which human behaviour, culture and biology can be understood as adaptive responses to environmental conditions.

Firmly embedded in an international network of researchers, our working group explores the evolution of human life histories and family structures, bio-cultural diversity as well as the transmission of cultural innovations and norms, particularly in relation to reproductive decision-making, kinship systems and co-operation. Our fieldwork produces original data on populations characterised by a full range of human biosocial patterns, including high fertility groups in Africa and Asia, low fertility populations in the UK and Europe, and a major new initiative on hunter-gatherers in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Congo.

Our research attracts major funding, such as an ERC Advanced Award to Ruth Mace on 'The Evolution of Cultural Norms in Real World Settings' (€1.8M); a Leverhulme grant to Andrea Migliano (PI) and others on 'Resilience in Hunter-Gatherers' (£1.7M). Ruth Mace also collaborates with the Chinese Academy of Sciences on kinship systems in China, and develops China's first research presence in human behavioural ecology with the help of a British Academy International Partnership Grant. Alumni of the group hold lectureships and research fellowships at many distinguished institutions in the UK and overseas.

Research Projects

  • Evolutionary demography and life history of traditional African and Asian populations, including hunter-gatherers
  • Phylogenetic approaches to cultural evolution, including comparative methods for testing cross-cultural hypotheses, and understanding the origins of kinship, family and social systems
  • Matriliny in China
  • Prosocial norms, including a case study in Northern Ireland
  • Family structure, parental investment and child development in the UK
  • Cultural transmission and the establishment of social norms, including contraception and other health-related behaviour
  • Hunter-gatherers’ resilience
  • Behavioural ecology of Amazonian populations
  • Demography of small-scale societies: Bayesian methods applied to incomplete census data
  • Group competition and the sympatric origin of languages

Research group

HEEG – Human evolutionary ecology group

Selected Publications

  • Lamba S, Mace R. 2013. The evolution of fairness: Explaining variation in bargaining behaviour. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 20122028– doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.2028
  • Mace R, Alvergne A. 2012. Female reproductive competition within families in rural Gambia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279, 2219-2227
  • Lamba S, Mace R. 2011. Demography and ecology drive variation in cooperation across human populations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108, 14426–14430
  • Rasmussen M, Guo X, Wang Y, Lohmueller KE, Rasmussen S, Albrechtsen A, Migliano AB et al. 2011. An Aboriginal Australian genome reveals separate human dispersals into Asia. Science 7, 334: 94–98
  • Scholes C, Siddle K, Ducourneau A, Crivellaro F, Järve M, Rootsi S, Bellatti M, Tabbada K, Mormina M, Reidla M, Villems R, Kivisild T, Lahr MM, Migliano AB. 2011. Genetic diversity and evidence for population admixture in Batak Negritos from Palawan. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 146, 62–72
  • Currie TE, Greenhill S, Gray R, Hasegawa T, Mace R. 2010. The rise and fall of political complexity in Island South-East Asia and the Pacific. Nature 467, 801–804
  • Mace R. 2010. Social behaviour in humans. In: T. Szekely et al. (Eds.), Social Behaviour: Genes, Ecology and Evolution. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 395–409
  • Vinicius L. 2010. Modular Evolution: How Natural Selection Produces Biological Complexity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
  • Sear R, Mace R. 2008. Who keeps children alive? A review of the effects of kin on child survival. Evolution and Human Behavior 29, 1–18
  • Mace R. 2008. Reproducing in cities. Science 319, 764–766

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