Dustin R. Rubenstein, PhD

Dustin R. Rubenstein, PhD

Research Interest

Research Summary

We take an integrative approach to understand how the environment—both social and ecological—influences animal behaviors through empirical studies that combine ecology and evolution with those of the underlying molecular and neuroendocrine mechanisms. Our work is grounded in mathematical theory, and we use modeling approaches and phylogenetic comparative methods to both generate and test novel hypotheses. We also use a variety of genomic and epigenetic tools, as well as analyses of hormones, immune function, and other physiological parameters. We study a variety of terrestrial vertebrate and invertebrate systems (including birds, reptiles, mammals, and insects) on every continent except Antarctica, as well as a number of aquatic organisms (including crustaceans and fishes) in both marine and freshwater ecosystems. We span molecules to populations, from invertebrates to vertebrates, and across levels of analysis, scales of biological organization, and the globe. 

We are particularly interested in the causes and consequences of sociality, and more broadly, the evolutionary responses and behavioral, physiological, and molecular adaptations that organisms use to cope with environmental change. By studying species that have experienced climatic variability for many generations, we seek to gain an understanding of not only how animals have adapted over evolutionary time to cope with unpredictable environmental changes, but also how organisms are likely cope with increased environmental uncertainty resulting from anthropogenic climate change. Ultimately, we seek to develop a synthetic understanding of how environmental change influences social living and adaptive coping by taking an integrative approach to study a diversity of organisms living in a range of habitats across the globe.

• AB 1999 Dartmouth College, Biology & Environmental Studies & Earth Sciences

• PhD 2006 Cornell University, Neurobiology and Behavior

• Miller Fellowship 2006-2009 University of California, Berkeley, Integrative Biology & Museum of Vertebrate Zoology

Chak, STC, SE Harris, KM Hultgren, NW Jeffrey and DR Rubenstein. 2021. Eusociality in snapping shrimps is associated with larger genomes and an accumulation of transposable elements. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Rubenstein, DR, A Corvelo, MD MacManes, R Maia, G Narzisi, A Rousaki, P Vandenabeele, M Shawkey and J Solomon. 2021. Feather gene expression elucidates the developmental basis of iridescence in African starlings. Journal of Heredity.

Tsai H-Y, DR Rubenstein, B-F Chen, M Liu, S-F Chan, Y-M Fan, D-P Chen, S-J Sun, T-N Yuan and S-F Shen. 2020. Antagonistic effects of intraspecific cooperation and interspecific competition on thermal performance. eLife 9:e57022.

Tsai H-Y, DR Rubenstein, Y-M Fan, T-N Yuan, B-F Chen, Y Tang, I-C Chen and SF Shen. 2020. Locally-adapted reproductive photoperiodism determines population vulnerability to climate change. Nature Communications 11:1398.

Firman RC, DR Rubenstein, JM Moran, KC Rowe and BA Buzatto. 2020. Extreme and variable climatic conditions drive the evolution of sociality in Australian rodents. Current Biology 30:691-697.

Wu S, C-M Chang, DR Rubenstein, C-M Yang, Y-T Huang, H-H Lin, L-C Shih, S-W Chen and S-F Shen. 2019. Artificial intelligence reveals environmental constraints on colour diversity in insects. Nature Communications 10:4554.

Rubenstein DR and J Alcock. 2018. Animal Behavior, 11th Edition. Oxford University Press, New York.

Cornwallis, CK, CA Botero, DR Rubenstein, PA Downing, SA West and AS Griffin. 2017. Cooperation facilitates the colonization of harsh environments. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1:0057

Hofmeister, NR and DR Rubenstein. 2016. Environmental variability and the evolution of the glucocorticoid receptor (Nr3c1) in African starlings. Ecology Letters 19:1219-1227.

Rubenstein DR, HE Skolnik, A Berrio, F Champagne, S Phelps and J Solomon. 2016. Sex-specific fitness effects of unpredictable early life conditions are associated with DNA methylation in the avian glucocorticoid receptor. Molecular Ecology 25:1714-1728.

Botero CA, FJ Weissing, J Wright and DR Rubenstein. 2015. Evolutionary tipping points in the capacity to adapt to environmental change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 112:184-189.

Sun S-J, DR Rubenstein, J-N Liu, M Liu, B-F Chen, S-F Chan, W Hwang, P-S Yang and S-F Shen. 2014. Climate-mediated cooperation promotes niche expansion in burying beetles. eLife 3:e02440.


  • Social evolution 
  • Mechanisms of social behavior 
  • Environmental coping 
  • Evolutionary geonomics 
  • Animal Behavior