UCL Anthropology


Human Evolutionary Ecology Group

About HEEG

The Human Evolutionary Ecology Group, located in the Department of Anthropology at UCL and led by Ruth Mace, is one of the largest groups of researchers investigating human evolutionary ecology in the UK. We study human behaviour and life history as adaptations to local environments - which includes not only human behavioural ecology but also evolutionary demography and cultural evolution. Areas of interest include human reproductive scheduling and life history, patterns of parental investment, the origins of human marriage and kinship systems, cultural phylogenetics and the evolution of social institutions, and the evolutionary ecology of co-operation. We are running a range of projects including those based on field studies ranging from traditional rural African and Asian populations to post-industrial, urban populations in the UK and Europe, and some that are making use of existing historical or modern medical or demographic datasets.

Our funders include the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council, UNFPA, the Leverhulme Trust, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the FCT, the British Academy, the Royal Society and the European Research Council.




Research Topics

  • The evolution of cultural norms in real world settings
  • The evolutionary ecology of matrilineal kinship
  • The evolutionary ecology of contraception and fertility decline
  • Co-operation and competition in rural Gambian households
  • Family structure and child development in developed populations
  • The dynamics of cultural difference and cultural integration: the case of religious groups in Northern Ireland
  • Hunter-gatherer life history 



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Ruth Mace
Email | Website

Daniz Salali

Gul Deniz Salali
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Hunter-gatherers, Social networks, Cultural Transmission


Emily Emmott
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Cooperative Breeding, Parental Investment, Child/Adolescent Development, Mixed-methods


Mark Dyble
Email | Website

Research Interests:

PhD Students


Hanzhi (May) Zhang
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Phylogenetic comparativ methods, Geography of cultural diversity, cultural extinction, Sino-Tibetan and Trans-European Population History

Sarah Peacey

Sarah Peacey
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Evolution of cooperation

Megan Arnot

Megan Arnot
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Behavioural ecology, Phylogenetic and comparative methods,
Evolutionary anthropology


Alberto Micheletti
Email | Website

Research Interests:


Hanzhi May Zhang
Email | Website

Research Interests:


Erhao Ge
Email | Website

Research Interests:


Yuan Chen
Email | Website

Research Interests:


Olympia Campbell
Email | Website

Research Interests:


Previous Members

  • Andrea Migliano (University of Zurich)
  • Kit Opie (University of Bristol)
  • Abigail Page (London School Of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
  • Nikhil Chaudhary (University of Cambridge)
  • Matthew Thomas (Save the Children)
  • Mark Dyble (University of Cambridge)
  • Dan Smith (ALSPAC)
  • Ting Ji (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing)
  • JiaJia Wu (Lanzhou University)
  • Heidi Colleran (Max Planck Institute for Human History, Jena, Germany)
  • Caroline Uggla (University of Stockholm)
  • Antonio Silva (The Behavioural Insights Team, London)
  • Nicolas Montalva (University of Talapaca)
  • Tom Currie (University of Exeter)
  • David Lawson (University of Santa Barbara)
  • Shakti Lamba (University of Exeter)
  • Alexandra Alvergne (University of Oxford)
  • Rebecca Sear (London School Of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
  • Fiona Jordan (University of Bristol)
  • Mhairi Gibson (University of Bristol)
  • Alejandra Nunez-de-la-Mora (Durham University)
  • Gillian Bentley (Durham University)
  • Laura Fortunato (Santa Fe Institute)
  • Eshetu Gurmu (University of Addis Ababa)

Juan Du


Congratulations to Juan Du for graduating with her PhD, which was titled 'Family and group dynamics in a Tibetan pastoralist society'. And also she has now secured an Associate Professorship in Life Sciences in Lanzhou University. She will, we think, be the first lecturer teaching an undergraduate course in Human Behavioural Ecology in China.

HEEG Lanzhou Founder members


Ruth is currently on sabbatical and has a visiting professorship at Lanzhou University in Gansu Province PRC, where she has established  HEEG Lanzhou.


Congratulations to Bram van Leeuwen for successfully passing his PhD viva. His examiners were Alexandre Alvergne and Tom Dickins.  

Ruth has been appointed as the incoming President of EHBEA (the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association). She will be President from 2016-2019.

UCL has set up a new website covering all those that are working in human evolution at UCL. www.ucl.ac.uk/human-evolution

Matt Viva

Congratulations to Matt Thomas who has successfully completed his viva. Examiners John Ziker and Nichola Raihani passed him without corrections!

New paper has been published in nature communications by Jiajia Wu, Ting Ji, QiaoQiao He, Juan Du, Ruth Mace: Cooperation is related to dispersal patterns in Sino-Tibetan populations

And Ruth have written a more popular article about it in theconversation website: Sino-Tibetan populations shed light on human cooperation

Congratulations to Emily Emmott for successfully completing her PhD viva with only minor corrections.  She is still with us in Anthropology as a Teaching Fellow.

On 26th November at 7pm Ruth Mace will join a panel at the Royal Institution giving short presentations and discussing 'Humans and other animals: the tangled web of culture'.

Ruth is giving a Plenary lecture at the Inaugural meeting of the Polish Evolution and Human Behaviour Society in Wroclaw on October 24th.

Congratulations to Nicolas Montalva on successfully completing his PhD viva.  He is now returning to Chile to take up a lectureship in biological anthropology.



Congratulations to Nienke Alberts and Kit Opie on the birth of their baby son Nils!


Congratulations to Hannah Lewis on the birth of baby Maisie Alice Phoebe Dumbrell!

We hosted a meeting for researchers to discuss work on a range of approaches to understanding human co-operation.

Ruth Mace was talking to Mariella Frostrup on Radio 4 about birth order effects, specifically related to her work with David Lawson and Emilly Emmott.

Antonio Silva and David Lawson have recently been given best student talk and new investigator award respectively at the EHBEA conference in Amsterdam

David Lawson has been awarded a 3 year MRC Population Health Fellowship at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine beginning in September 2013.

Ruth Mace, Jia-Jia Wu and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have published a paper on Proc. Royal Society B: Communal breeding promotes a matrilineal social system where husband and wife live apart

Congratulations to Heidi Colleran for completing her PhD on "The evolutionary anthropology of fertility decline in rural Poland" 08/2012
Antonio Silva and Ruth Mace have published a paper in PLOS One: Lost Letter Measure of Variation in Altruistic Behaviour in 20 Neighbourhoods.

Two of our PhD student won awards at the EHBEA and HBES conferences. Emily Emmott was awarded the best student poster at EHBEA and Heidi Colleran won the new investigator award at HBES.

Taught Courses

The Department of Anthropology at UCL offers a taught MSc in Human Evolution and Behaviour, which includes courses on human and primate behavioural ecology.

For more information, please visit the MSc in Human Behaviour and Evolution page.

Research Degrees

The Department of Anthropology also offers MPhil and PhD research degrees and we welcome enquiries from interested students. Please contact Ruth Mace or Andrea Migliano directly.