Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology
Department of Biology, Castetter Hall, Room 110
University of New Mexico
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA
Tel. (505) 277-3505 (o)
(505) 681-3391 (c)
Fall Semester 2013
Offered for Three Biology (419/519) or Religious Studies Credits (447).
Click for more information.
Special Seminar Announcement
Building deep relationship skills is a life long, quintessentially human project. Whether we know it or not, we work on our relationships under the weight of evolved tendencies toward pursuing self-interest. Hence we unknowlingly build models of others, and of ourselves, designed to serve surprisingly narrow fitness-enhancing goals. Even amongst friends and family, natural selection has programmed our development to lead to habitual use of contingent, situational caricatures of self versus other to manage our relationships, largely unconsciously. Our intentional "self," to the extent we can say one even exists, is tragically passive in all of this. Under the cryptic influence of our instinctual relationship modeling systems, we become locked into cheap, albeit "effective and efficient" (i.e., potentially biologically adaptive) forms of hyper-intersubjectivity with virtually everyone. We easily can come to accept this "board game" as all we reasonably can hope for in our relationships. Humans are in a unique position, however, to experience dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Moreover, as humans, we are privileged to be in a position, with help and practice, to do something about it, that is, to build mutually reinforcing intellectual and emotional skills that, at least occasionally, allow us to escape the instinctual and habitual prisons that so limit the quality of our relations.
Former UNM evolutionary biology doctoral student, Dr. William LaRue, synthesizes perspectives from evolutionary psychology and neuroscience with traditional meditative and introspective methods to help individuals at all life stages build skills to foster more vivacious, fulfilling, and joyful relationships that more fully reflect real Human potentials. See: CompassionateRelating.org for more on upcoming Albuquerque and Taos workshops scheduled to begin in late May 2013. The first meeting is free - modest donations are accepted thereafter.
Self-employed, privately and publicaly funded research biologist, 1981 - present.
Ph.D., Biology, 1988. Cornell University, Section of Neurobiology and Behavior,
Major: Behavioral Biology, S.T. Emlen and P.W. Sherman.
Minor 1: Ecological Genetics, T. Eisner.
Minor 2: Bioorganic Chemistry, J. Meinwald.
Minor 3: Neurobiology, R. Harris-Warrick.
Doctoral Thesis: The Adaptive Functions of Sequential Polyandry in the
Spider Linyphia litigiosa (Linyphiidae). (Linyphia litigiosa = Neriene litigiosa).
My research focuses on the evolution of social and sexual behavior in taxa ranging from arthropods to humans. My nearly continuous studies of the sexual selection system of the sierra dome spider, Neriene (= Linyphia) litigiosa (Linyphiidae), are now in their 31st year.
I thank the late Dr. Allen Stokes for getting me started on my research with sierra dome spiders. I took his field course in animal behavior at Flathead Lake Biological Station in the summer of 1980. Dr. Stokes' intelligence, indefatigable curiosity, and unwavering encouragement got me started on a project that profoundly influenced my personal and professional life by revealing to me a window, straight into the heart of nature, that is always wide open. Feel that crystal breeze, if you dare.
My ongoing sierra dome spider studies seek to elucidate: (1) the information content of male and female courtship signals and cues, (2) the conditionality of choice mechanisms and sexual preferences, (3) trade-offs amongst sexual preferences, (4) the importance of antagonistic coevolution with diseases in its effect on the evolutionary dynamics of mate choice, (5) the use of polyandry as a tactic to mitigate problems of intersexual competition, harassment, and mate selection, and (6) the multivariate decision rules males use to modulate their fighting behavior and intersexual courtship intensity. I continue this work primarily at the University of Montana's Flathead Lake Biological Station.Shorter term insect studies include environmentally determined mate choice criteria and the energetics of intersexual conflict in Mormon crickets and water striders, the energetics of feeding preferences in a seed-eating bug, sensory and behavioral adaptations for facultative hematophagy in a sap-sucking plant bug, and the ecological and life history correlates of ritualized versus injurious competitive displays in microlepidopteran moths.
I am a member of the University of New Mexico's Human Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences faculty. My work with humans is on a heuristic, theoretical level, although several of my students do empirical research on Homo sapiens evolutionary psychology. I am interested in developing evolutionarily principled conceptual models of human intrapsychic organization. I am especially interested in the adaptive function of conscious experience and the relationship between phenomenal consciousness and unconscious information processing. As a window into the organization and regulation of subjective experience as as a fascinating phenomenon in and of itself, the evolution of religiosity is a special interest (see link to my current course, above). I also have an ongoing interest in the adaptive significance of various forms of psychological pain which the unconscious mind imposes on our conscious world. Drs. Edward H. Hagen, Paul W. Andrews, J. Anderson (Andy) Thomson, and I have worked together to publish in-depth modern analyses of the potential evolutionary adaptive functions of unipolar depression. I run interactive workshops for mental health professionals, as well as members of the general public who seek a better understanding of evolutionary ideas concerning religiosity, psychological pain, and mental disorders, often with my Gestalt Therapist colleague John D. Wymore and through the Oasis continuing education program. I also interact with practitioners of various contemplative traditions who have an interest in understanding more scientifically the source and meaning of their common and expanded inner experiences. I involve a number of graduates and advanced undergraduates in my research and also spend a good deal of time advising students in their own projects.
Humans are built to be intensely curious about the workings of minds. We instinctively hunger for insights that will allow us to predict and influence the operation of the minds of fellow humans, animals. Less commonly, people are non-superficially curious about their own minds and the hyper-subjective self-models and world-models they create "for us." Behavioral ecology is essentially the analysis of animal and human mental design from the combined perspectives of ecology and evolutionary biology. The analyses conducted by evolutionarily oriented behaviorists often include work to elucidate the functional design of a specific component of the subject species' mind (i.e., how it gathers and processes information relevant to a given fitness-related opportunity or threat, and responds with behavioral outputs), as well as the fitness consequences and phylogenetic history of mental design. My interests center on the evolutionary adaptiveness of contingent responses of animal and human minds to problems associated with sexual reproduction and social living.
In my work with animals, I focus on interdisciplinary studies of invertebrates designed to reveal the information content of sexual signals, and thus the adaptive significance of decision rules used to choose mates and determine which mates contribute genetically to offspring. Methodologically, my research is rooted deeply in observation and experimentation in nature. However, it also includes laboratory components involving carbon dioxide and oxygen respirometry to measure individual variation in metabolic capacities and rates of aging, as well as morphometric analysis to quantify variation in developmental competence via measures of fluctuating asymmetry. These aspects of my research help me to understand how sexual signals convey information about fundamental aspects of individual viability fitness.
In my research on the metabolic capacities demonstrated by male sierra dome spiders during their elaborate strenuous copulatory courtship, I have found that both metabolic efficiency (microwatts consumed per unit of courtship performance) and maximum metabolic rate (sustainable aerobic capacity) are positively selected by females. Two overt male traits independently predict fertilization success, body mass and copulatory vigor (measured as intromission rate - the number of separate genitalic connections made by the male per unit time during copulatory courtship). Metabolic efficiency is correlated with male body mass (even after compensating for the expected allometric relationship) and aerobic capacity with copulatory vigor. Interestingly, due to some fundamental physiological trade-off (maybe to do with accelerating rates of oxygen free-radicals with increasing metabolic rates) efficiency and maximum metabolic rate are negatively correlated in the general male population. By simultaneously selecting positively for both of these traits, females are effectively shopping for the least negative trade-off between these two viability-enhancing physiological traits. In other words, by cross-referencing body mass and courtship performance, females are sexually selecting for metabolic power: the maximum rate at which the male can perform useful metabolic work (as opposed, for example, to "work" wasting calories in the production of heat or unnecessary movement.
My respirometric studies also suggest that males sierra domes that are more sexually competitive early in life, have more rapid rates of physiological senescence (as measured by their resting and active metabolic rates). Rates of aging of prospective sires may be a major issue for female sierra dome spiders. In my study population, variable proportions (up to 85 percent!) of gravid females die each year just before they are able to oviposit. They apparently succumb just a bit too early to a rickettsial disease, but their susceptibility may be related to their level of senescence. While a given female's sons can hope to reproduce early in adult life, and so not have their reproductive fitness threatened by the sexual competitiveness/senescence rate trade-off, daughters may be reproductively crippled by genes received from of a rapidly aging father because females always need to live long to have a chance to yolk up a sizeable clutch of eggs. Early reproduction is not an option for females, so they cannot easily escape the competitiveness/senescence rate trade-off.Thus, to protect their daughters, female sierra dome spiders may need to resist always mating with only the most sexually impressive males in thepopulation, especially early in the mating season before the ravages of aging have taken their toll on the superstuds of the population.
I also have a longstanding interest in human evolutionary psychology. Here is a an excellent introduction to evolutionary psychology specifically geared to understanding the evolution of violence in humans and other animals, including especially intraspecific violence.
I have long been exploring implications of a Darwinian analysis of human cognitions and emotions for psychotherapeutic methodologies. My most detailed work in this area, with Dr. P.W. Andrews and several other colleagues, addresses the possible adaptive functions evolution of unipolar depression. I presented an integrated "social niche change" or "social navigation" model covering both minor and major depression, as well as associated suicidality, to the Human Behavior and Evolution Society and, as an invited keynote address, to the Across Species Comparisons and Psychopathology (ASCAP) group, in July 1998. Another keynote address was invited by The Association for the Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry and given at their regional New York City meeting on Evolutionary Theory and Psychopathology, in November 1999. A paper on this topic has been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders (October 2002; v. 72, pp. 1-14; get PDF); more recent related papers by myself and colleagues are available on my evolution of depression web site.
A lifelong special interest concerns how insights from evolutionary psychology may critically, practically, and constructively illuminate the "sacred psychologies" and introspective methods of contemplative traditions such as Zen Buddhism, Sufism and Gnostic Christianity. To the extent that philosophical positions rely on thought unchecked by evidence, and both confuse and close doors to further inquiry, they are likely to be wrong. Scientists everywhere readily embrace this attitude. I contend that this same attitude long has been a cornerstone of genuine spiritual work - a radically empirical albiet introspective personal activity that predates yet can compliment western science in one's pursuit for self-knowledge. For more on this, click here to see the description of my workshops at the Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California.
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