Human Behavioral Ecology


Faculty in the Ecology, Environment, and Evolution concentration in the Department of Anthropology maintain research specialties and provide formal training in the area of human behavioral ecology (HBE). HBE is a dynamic field that emerged from the diverse research traditions of cultural ecology as practiced by scholars such as Julian Steward and Roy Rappaport, the ethology of Nikko Tinbergen and Robert Hinde, and evolutionary ecology of scholars such as Robert MacArthur, David Lack, and Gordon Orians. HBE focuses on understanding human behavioral plasticity and uses formal approaches to study the adaptive responses of people to environmental challenges, particularly those related to core questions of subsistence and reproduction.

Within HBE, Stanford maintains particular strength in the areas of foraging theory , signaling theory, ethnoarchaeology, demography and life history theory, and the analysis of risk in subsistence and reproductive decisions. All the current Stanford faculty with expertise in HBE are pursuing research and teaching agendas that seek to integrate the theories and methodologies of HBE with the analysis of decision-making of actors in heterogeneous and nation-states and transnational populations. Cutting across all of these topics is a focus on how processes of adaptation and evolutionary change create variability and plasticity in human behavior, culture, and social systems, and on the ways that such variability interacts dynamically with biotic and social environments at various spatial scales and at the individual, community, and population levels. As such, we offer training in a rigorous and holistic 'human ecology' that links theory in behavioral, community, and population ecology.

The faculty maintain diverse research collaborations with faculty in numerous departments both at Stanford (e.g., Political Science, Biological Sciences, Sociology, Environmental and Earth Systems) and in the broader global community (e.g., Yale, Utah, Makere University, University of Bristol, University of Western Australia, Australian National University). These research collaborations provide extensive opportunities for fieldwork and training in a global context.

HBE students within the EE track work on a variety of projects examining the role of signaling in the performance of religious ritual, time preferences in foraging returns, social networks of market traders, childcare and disease risk, the ethnoarchaeology of both dry-country and arctic foragers, and the exchange networks of contemporary hunter-gatherers.