Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture
Deutscher Platz 6
phone: +49 341 3550 330
e-mail: mary_mcelreath@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de
I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in patterns of behavior and animal cultural traditions. My research focuses on understanding how animal societies, and the individuals that comprise them, evolve and adapt their behaviors to changing ecological and environmental conditions. My taxonomic focus includes non-human primates and birds. The questions I address have focused on mating, social, and dispersal systems, as well as on innovation, social learning, resource inheritance, and cultural traditions. I use a combination of theoretical modelling and empirical, field-based research to better understand these behavioral dynamics. Current projects include:
(1) Evolutionary Models of Animal Culture and Social Learning. The effects of age-structure, social structure, and biased social learning strategies are important to understanding cultural patterns in species with overlapping generations and complex social systems. This work is contributing to a theoretical basis that can be applied to a wide range of animal culture studies.
(2) Social and Vocal Complexity in Birds. Vocalizations in birds can be socially learned and culturally transmitted, leading to a mosaic of distinct vocal dialects across populations. Theories of the evolution of vocal systems have proposed the “social-complexity” hypothesis, which asserts that the diversity and complexity of communication signals is driven by the complexity of social interactions within groups, at both the proximate (individual, ecological) and ultimate (species, evolutionary) levels. This project will provide an empirical test of the social complexity hypothesis, by investigating the interplay between social dynamics, population structure, and vocal call types in wild parrots.
(3) Social, Demographic, and Ecological Drivers of Cultural Variation in Capuchins. We are developing behavioral occupancy models for the analysis of cultural variation in white-faced capuchins. Our aim is to explore how demography and social structure influence cultural variation and patterns. We will test the theoretical predictions of the primary ratchet model (McElreath et al. 2018): that large group sizes tend to enhance opportunities for cultural evolution, leading to increased prevalence and diversity of cultural traits.