Social behavior is both a cause and a consequence of complex population structure. Caitlin’s research focuses on the evolutionary feedbacks between individual behavior and population-level processes, with the aim of acquiring a deeper understanding of the complexities of social evolution.
During her PhD, Caitlin studied a population of western bluebirds at Hastings Reserve in California. Male western bluebirds tend to settle only a short distance from the territory on which they were born, with the result that breeding males often have relatives nearby. During the course of conducting field experiments to study the consequences of these “kin neighborhoods” for cooperative and competitive behavior between western bluebird males, Caitlin became fascinated by how individual decisions, such as how far from home to settle, shape population-level characteristics such as kin structure, and in turn how population structure shapes the costs and benefits of competitive behavior for individuals. This interest prompted Caitlin to begin using game theory in combination with demographic models to study the evolution of competitive behavior in structured populations, research she is continuing as an Omidyar Fellow.
In her first postdoc, Caitlin worked with Maria Servedio at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, using population genetic models to study the evolution of mating traits in socially monogamous species. Since the vast majority of bird species are socially monogamous, understanding how traits such as ornaments and mating preferences for those ornaments evolve in such systems is highly pertinent. Caitlin brought her interest in competitive behavior to bear on this problem, asking how competition between members of the same species affects the evolution of mating preferences.
Caitlin earned a PhD in behavioral ecology from Cornell University, and an AB in biology from Harvard University. Her PhD research was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, in addition to numerous grants including a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research.