My current research focuses on understanding how species cope with environmental change and the evolution of large complex societies. There are several parallel themes to my research program.
The first theme is to understand how populations respond to environmental change. We are developing and using network theory to evaluate population stability and structuring in animal populations both over time (Stanley and Shultz, 2012) and across ecological gradients (Jackson et al in prep). Equids are the current model system, due to the availability of data across wide ecological gradients, but the objective is to extend these analyses to evaluate variation and flexibility in other animal networks. I also have several projects that evaluate how species characteristics affect their sensitivity to environmental change (Shultz et al 2004; Salido-Grana et al, 2012; Jackson et al in prep a,b) and how animals respond to external stressors (Edwards et al 2013; 2014; 2015). We have also demonstrated that water extraction impacts on vegetation communities and large herbivore space use (Elisa et al in press). Future research will continue to develop a toolkit to assess individual and population level responses to environmental perturbation and change.
The seond theme is to identify macroevolutionary trends in social behaviour and complexity. Recent work involves reconstructing major evolutionary transitions using Bayesian statistics in primate sociality and testing alternative models of social and cultural evolution (Shultz et al, 2011; Opie et al 2013a,b; Opie et al 2014). We are now using this approach address questions about the evolution of mating systems, cooperation and eusociality in primates and other groups (Shultz et al in review; Day et al in review; Shultz et al in prep). We also have demonstrated that sociality is universally associated with large brains in mammals, but the relationship is strongest for primates (Shultz and Dunbar 2007; Perez-Barberia, Shultz, Dunbar 2007). This research has focused on a number of vertebrate taxa, including birds (Shultz and Dunbar 2010d; Shultz et al 2005) and primates (Shultz and Dunbar 2010b). We have used the fossil record to provide the first quantitative test for encephalisation in mammals (Shultz and Dunbar 2010a). Most recently we have applied the approaches developed in other animals to understand how hominin brain and cognitive evolution is influenced by paleoclimate (Shultz et al, 2012; Shultz and Maslin 2013; Maslin et al 2014; Maslin Shultz and Trauth 2015). Future research will focus on understanding the role of direct and indirect benefits in the evolution of cooperation and the evolution of behavioural and cultural repertoires.
The Asian vulture crisis: identifying the cause of the catastrophic population declines in Asian vultures. Project manager (May 2003-September 2004). We identified the veterinary drug diclofenac as the primary cause of catastrophic mortality of Gyps vultures in the Indian sub-continent (Shultz et al 2004a; Green et al 2004). ‘Of monkeys and eagles: predator-prey interactions in the Taï National Park, Ivory Coast’. My thesis project (2000-2003) explored the relationship between prey behavioural ecology and predation risk by African crowned eagles (Stephanoaetus coronatus). The fundamental concern of the project was the relationship between selective predation pressure and the evolution of sociality and mixed-species associations among the eight species of diurnal primates found in the Taï forest (e.g. Shultz et al 2004b; Shultz and Nöe 2002). I have also been involved in numerous other ecology projects involving crowned eagles (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Dr. Gerard Malan), ocelots (Iguazu National Park, Argentina), osprey and bald eagles (New York State Department of Conservation), patas and vervet monkeys (Mpala, Kenya).