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Paul W. Sherman

Professor Emeritus

Seeley G. Mudd Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853

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Research Interests

My group is interested in the social and reproductive behaviors of animals, including humans. Our common perspectives are that (1) natural selection (differential reproduction) is the evolutionary process that leads to adaptation, and that (2) the principal focus of selection is the individual and its genes. Thus, individuals' lifetimes are appropriately viewed as sequences of cost-benefit decisions about how to maximize reproduction. We develop a priori hypotheses about potential fitness advantages and disadvantages of particular behaviors and then to gather data that yield strong inference tests of the alternatives. Such studies typically involve long-term observations of animals in their natural habitat, supplemented both by comparisons among phylogenetically related species differing in relevant aspects of their biology and by laboratory analyses of genetic relatednesses. There is a common focus in my group on conceptual issues but not on any one taxon, and my doctoral students have worked with spiders, social bees and wasps, tree frogs, grass finches, superb starlings, cowbirds, cardinals, water striders, anemone fishes, tinamous, motmots, brush turkeys, bdelloid rotifers, fig wasps, and naked mole-rats, at research sites in Australia, Africa, New Guinea, Mexico, Central and South America, and the United States. My own research, often conducted in collaboration with Dr. Janet Shellman Sherman, focuses on the fragile balance between cooperation and conflict in various mammalian and avian societies and, most recently, on topics in Darwinian medicine.

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Recent Publications

Caro, T. and P. W. Sherman 2012. Vanishing behaviors. Conservation Letters 5: 1-8.

Young, S.L., Sherman, P.W., Lucks, J.B., and G. Pelto. 2011. Why on earth? Evaluating hypotheses about the physiological functions of human geophagy. Quarterly Review of Biology 86: 97-120.

Caro, T. and P.W. Sherman. 2011. Behavioural ecology cannot profit from unstructured environmental change. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 26: 321-322.

Caro, T. and P.W. Sherman. 2011. Endangered species and a threatened discipline: behavioural ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 26: 111-118.

Abbot, P. et al. (P.W. Sherman is among 127 co-authors). 2011. Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality. Nature 471: E1-E4.

Sherman, P.W. and J. Alcock (Eds.). 2010. Exploring Animal Behavior: Readings From the American Scientist (Sinauer Associates).  Fifth Edition.

Wilson, C.G. and P.W. Sherman.  2010. Anciently asexual bdelloid rotifers escape lethal fungal parasites by drying up and blowing away. Science (Cover Story) 327: 574-576.

Wasser, D. and P.W. Sherman.  2010.  Avian longevities and their interpretation under evolutionary theories of senescence. Journal of Zoology  280: 103-155.

Schlaepfer, M.A., P.W. Sherman, and M.A. Runge. 2010.  Decision making, environmental change, and population persistence.  Pages 506-515 in Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology (D. F. Westneat and C. W. Fox, Eds.), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Caro, T. and P.W. Sherman.  2009.  Rewilding can cause rather than solve ecological problems.  Nature (Correspondence) 462: 985.

Seeley, T.D. and P.W. Sherman.  2009. Animal Behavior. Encyclopaedia Brittanica OnLine (19 text pages).  Accessible at:

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Courses Taught

Introduction to Behavior; Animal Social Behavior; Darwinian Medicine