I am an evolutionary biologist currently working as an NSERC-funded postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Julie Teichroeb (University of Toronto Scarborough) and Dr. Pascale Sicotte (Concordia University). My research interests are diverse but I am broadly interested in social behaviour, and understanding how individuals deal with the challenges of social life. Living in groups provides lots of benefits like better predator detection and defence. But social groups are also a collection of unique individuals, each driven to maximize their own personal fitness. Consequently, group-living also means that group members must compete with one another for fitness-limiting resources such as food and mates, resolve conflicts of interest when they arise, and find ways to cooperate together to defend important resources against conspecific and/or heterospecific competitors. I am endlessly fascinated by the multitude of strategies that have evolved in response to these challenges.
My doctoral research on vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) examined how differences in the costs and benefits of participating in intergroup fights cause conflicts of interest to arise between the sexes. My work demonstrated that both males and females use social incentives to manipulate the participation of members of the opposite sex and achieve more ideal outcomes. Females use punishment and rewards to recruit males into the fight when valuable food resources are at stake. Risk-averse males (i.e., likely sires who are wounded) use punishment and coercion to de-escalate intergroup fights that could put their offspring at risk.
As a postdoctoral fellow, my research questions have included:
1. How do foraging vervet monkeys mitigate the risk of losing food to dominant competitors? Here, we have shown that decision-makers use information on their audience (e.g., their relative rank and travel time to the food patch), and their own skill level in handling food items, to choose a foraging strategy that will maximize their food intake.
2. When population density increases, how do male and female Colobus vellerosus each deal with escalating intergroup contest competition? Here, we show that females are the sex that most modifies their behaviour as intergroup competition intensifies, by increasing the frequency with which they fight for access to food and space.
3. Do female vervet monkeys trade copulations with male group members to increase tolerance around valuable food resources? How does the amount of food females are able to demand respond to changes in the supply of females participating in the sex-for-feeding-tolerance market?
4. How are female Colobus vellerosus reproductive decisions impacted by both ecological conditions and the risk of infanticide?
5. How does their ecology impact the social structure of Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii, a species that forms multi-level societies? Here, we have shown that although colobines are typically thought of as folivores, this species consumes a large amount of fruit. and their inter-unit association patterns are dependent on the abundance of these food resources. Furthermore, although they are cross-bonded, Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii also shows high levels of male-male tolerance, and it is likely that male relationships between units are key to facilitating inter-unit associations.
6. Why do humans spontaneously help strangers that they are unlikely to meet again? Do these costly acts signal your willingness, availability and ability to engage in a mutually beneficial cooperative relationship?