Daniel Rubenstein
Systems and Circuits
Systems and Circuits

Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology. Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Director, Program in African Studies. Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Research: Behavioral Ecology; Movement Ecology; Evolution of Cooperation; Conservation Biology
Areas of Research: Behavior - Conservation - Ecology - Evolution
Research Lab
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210 Eno Hall

Research Focus

My research focuses on decision-making in animals. I study how an individual's foraging, mating and social behavior are influenced by its phenotype, by ecological circumstances, and by the actions of other individuals in the population. I develop simple mathematical models to generate predictions that can be tested using data gathered from structured field observations or experimental manipulations. In this way I search for general principles, or 'rules', that underlie complex patterns of behavior.

Much of my recent research on the adaptive value of behavior has centered on understanding the social dynamics of equids—horses, zebras and asses. My studies have shown that as the distributions of forage and water change, the patterns of female movement and association change. In turn, the ways in which males compete to mate with females also change. Thus ecological features play a large role in shaping equid core social groups.

But some harem dwelling equids, in particular the Plains zebras, exhibit additional layers of social structuring and my latest research shows that the force that matters most in determining whether or not herds form is a social one. The magnitude of the risk associated of a stallion being cuckolded determines whether or not harem males join together to form alliances. How risks are assessed, decisions are made and how conflicts of interest among individuals of differing phenotypes with differing needs are avoided is the focus of my ongoing research into the control of behavior.

Melding both functional and mechanistic approaches to studying animal behavior is an important problem in the emerging area of 'Biocomplexity' and is one that requires interdisciplinary studies that cut across many scales. My latest research focuses on one such problem—the rules governing animal movements and migration—and involves the interaction of 'self-organizing' behavioral movement rules, ecological information, and habitat structure at multiple spatial scales to understand how migratory animal movements respond to human induced land use change and how these changes in movement in turn affect population stability. Conservation implications are actively being explored.

Media Coverage

  1. Interview with Dan Rubenstein on the Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio.
  2. Hawk Mountain Research featured in PLoS ONE, 2014. New research shows vultures focus on regions where wildlife are most likely to die
  3. News at Princeton, September 2013. Into the wild: Global Seminar takes budding filmmakers to Kenya's plains
  4. "Realignments: A Zebra Story” examines the differences in appearance and behavior of the two zebra species in Kenya, providing insight into the endangerment of the Grevy's zebras and their uncertain future. Watch here.
  5. "Nature's Nurturers" reveals the work of the Northern Kenya Conservation Clubs, focusing on the primary and secondary schools of Laikipia. Watch here!
  6. National Research Council. 2013. Using science to improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A way forward.(PDF)
  7. News at Princeton, February 20, 2012 Wildlife and cows can be partners, not enemies, in search for food
  8. Towerview article, Duke University, February 2012 Wild Horses at Shackleford
  9. NPR, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! April 2011 A Limerick about the Zebra barcode Scanner
  10. Wired UK, April 2011 Biologists create barcode scanner for zebras
  11. PBS World Focus, October 2009 - Prolonged drought devastates Kenyan People and Wildlife
  12. PBS World Focus, October 2009 - Interview with Professor Dan Rubinstein
  13. CNN, April 24, 2008: If you were a zebra, how would you spend your days?
  14. Science News, December 1, 2007: Social networking for zebras.
  15. Princeton Weekly Bulletin, April 2007: Water in Africa Project
  16. Princeton Weekly Bulletin, November 2002: NSF ZebraNet* project.
  17. NSF Special Report "The Secret Lives of Wild Animals" features ZebraNet project.
  18. Report by Linda Reifschneider for the American Zoological Association featuring my presentation at the AAAS 2006 Annual meeting: "Research Collaboration for Conservation: Zoos and Universities Working Together."

Selected Publications

  • Kulahci, I. G., Drea, C. M., Rubenstein, D. I. and Asif A. Ghazanfar, A. A. (2014)Individual recognition through olfactory–auditory matching in lemurs. Proceedings of the Royal Society Vol. 281 No. 1784 (link)
  • Roberts, B.A., Rubenstein, D. I. (2014) Maternal tactics for mitigating neonate predation risk during the postpartum period in Thomson’s gazelle. Behavior, Vol. 151 (link)
  • Nunez, C.M.V, Adelman, J.S., Smith, J., Gesquiere, L.R., Rubenstein, D. I. (2014) Linking social environment and stress physiology in feral mares (Equus caballus): Group transfers elevate fecal cortisol levels. General and Comparative Endocrinology, Vol. 196, pp. 26–33 (link)
  • Kendall, Corinne J., Virani, Munir Z., Hopcraft, J. Grant C., Bildstein, Keith L., Rubenstein, D. I. (2014). African Vultures Don’t Follow Migratory Herds: Scavenger Habitat Use Is Not Mediated by Prey Abundance. PLoS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083470 (link) PDF
  • Cassandra M. V. Nuñez, C.M.V., Adelman, J.S. and Rubenstein, D. I. (2013). A Free-Ranging, Feral Mare Equus caballus Affords Similar Maternal Care to Her Genetic and Adopted Offspring. The American Naturalist November 2013, Vol. 182, No. 5, pp. 674-681 (link)
  • Nowzari, H., Hemami, M., Karami, M., Zarkesh, M.M.K., Riazi, B. and Rubenstein, D.I.(2013). Habitat use by the Persian Onager Equus hemionus onager (Perissodactyla: Equidae) in Qatrouyeh National Park, Fars, Iran. Journal of Natural History 47:43-44, 2795-2814, DOI: 10.1080/00222933.2013.802040 PDF (link)
  • Giuggioli, L, Potts, J.R., Rubenstein, D. I. and Levin, S.A. (2013). Stigmergy, collective actions, and animal social spacing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (link)
  • Fischer, Ilan., Frid, A., Goerg, S.J., Levin S.A., Rubenstein, D. I. , Selten, R. (2013). Fusing Enacted and Expected Mimicry Generates a Winning Strategy that Promotes the Evolution of Cooperation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (link)

View Complete Publications list.