Jennifer E. Smith, PhD
My general interests lie in understanding mammalian social behavior within an evolutionary context. The evolution of sociality is a central problem in the field of the behavioral ecology, and most research in this area employs a cost-benefit approach to studying the trade-offs associated with group living. Biological market theory, like traditional optimization theory, predicts that the benefits of cooperative partnerships should outweigh the costs. However, it further predicts that the relative values of partnerships are dynamic, and depend upon the current state of the biological marketplace. My current research, therefore, focuses on testing several predictions derived from market theory by studying spotted hyenas ( Crocuta crocuta ).
The flexible fission-fusion structure of Crocuta societies, together with rank-based variation in partner quality, offers an excellent system in which to test the predictions of biological market theory. The specific aims of my research include identifying the socioecological determinants of subgroup size and partner choice outside of the mating context in Crocuta . My current research also asks whether the evolutionary forces of kin selection, reciprocal altruism, or by-product mutualism favor coalition formation, a form of cooperation. More generally, I intend to discern how the current state of the biological marketplace influences the relative occurrence of cooperative, affiliative, and competitive behaviors in these gregarious animals.
Jenn is currently an associate professor of Biology at Mills College in Oiakland, CA. Her lab website is here: