UCL Anthropology


Human Evolutionary Ecology Group

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.




List of Publications

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 UK children
  • The dynamics of cultural difference and cultural integration: the case of religious groups in Northern Ireland
  • The evolution of lactose tolerance in a mixed population in Chile
  • Hunter-gatherer life history and genetics



Logo ERC

Logo FCT

Logo Leverhulme

Logo RS

Logo Wellcome



Ruth Mace
Email | Website

Andrea Migliano

Andrea Migliano
Email | Website

Post-Doc Researchers

Daniz Salali

Gul Deniz Salali
Email | Website

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


Kit Opie
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Evolution of Social Systems


Abigail Page
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Hunter-gatherers, life-history, health and biosocial adaptation

Juan Du

Juan Du
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Kinship and marriage system in Tibet

PhD Students

Nikhil Chaudhary

Nikhil Chaudhary
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Hunter-gatherers, social structure, mating/ marriage systems and cooperative breeding

Sarah Peacey

Sarah Peacey
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Evolution of cooperation

Megan Arnot

Mega Arnot
Email | Website

Research Interests:
Behavioural ecology
Phylogenetic and comparative methods
Evolutionary anthropology



Previous Members

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.

Human co-operaation at UCL - A workshop on Sept 17th



Human co-operaation at UCL - A workshop on Sept 17th from HEEG on Vimeo.

A meeting, convened by Ruth Mace, UCL Anthropology, to present and discuss work on a range of approaches to understanding proximate determinants and ultimate evolutionary causes human co-operation (broadly defined). Talks include empirical, experimental and theoretical work on topics ranging from parochial altruism, punishment, prosociality and kinship and its role in promoting human co-operation. Speakers include those working at UCL, visitors, and collaborators, from anthropology, biology, computer science and other disciplines.

This meeting is supported by the UCL Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing, the British Academy and the European Research Council.

1. Welcome

2. Antonio Silva (UCL Anthropology)
Parochial altruism and inter-group conflict: A case study of Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast

3. Nicola Raihani (UCL Biology)
Anonymous donations to charity - when to hide helping behaviour

4. Henry Travers (Imperial, Conservation Sciences)
How much help can experimental games give us in the design of incentives for conservation?

5. Hannah Lewis/Andrea Migliano (UCL , Anthropology)
The co-evolution of demand sharing, mobility and life history in hunter gatherer societies.

6. Daniel Taylor (Bath, Computer Science)
Does Exclusion Explain Cooperation in Large Groups?

7. Yi Tao (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Theoretical Ecology Group)
Significance of the One-Third Law in Evolution of Cooperation



Human co-operaation at UCL - A workshop on Sept 17th - Afternoon session from HEEG on Vimeo.


8. Jia Jia Wu (UCL Anthropology)
Why do males help sisters more than their wives in matrilineal social systems?

9. Ruth Mace (UCL Anthropology)
Reproductive competition and human kinship systems

10. Kit Opie (UCL Anthropology)
Reconstructing kinship systems in the neolithic

11. Mimi Guillon (UCL Anthropology)
The evolution of kinship terminology - a cultural phylogenetic approach

12. Dan Bang (Oxford, Experimental Psychology)
Confidence is for sharing

13. Joanna Bryson (Bath, Computer Science)
Punishment as regulation of public goods investment: Understanding cultural variation in anti-social punishment

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.