Dustin R. Rubenstein, PhD
  • Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology

Although we work on a variety of animal systems and theoretical questions, what binds us together is our interest in social behavior. Some of us are more focused on genomics and epigenetics, others on neurodenocrinology, and still others evolution and behavior. Yet, we are primarily interested in two major research themes: (1) understanding the evolutionary causes and consequences of animal sociality; and (2) determining the behavioral, physiological, and molecular adaptations that animals use to cope with environmental change. We primarily work on social species, either vertebrates or invertebrates, in the field. We have studied a variety of organisms, including birds, crustaceans, reptiles, and insects throughout Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. We have used a number of lab techniques, ranging from stable isotope mass spectrometry to molecular genetics; currently we use a variety of genomic tools (RNAseq, RADseq, pyroseq, RRBS) in addition to analyses of hormones, immune function, and other physiological parameters. We also employ game theory modeling and evolutionary simulations, as well as comparative methods. Ultimately, our goals are to (1) develop a synthetic understanding of animal sociality by combining mathematical theory with empirical studies of behavior, ecology, evolution, and the underlying genetic, epigenetic, and neuroendocrine mechanisms, and to (2) link the behavioral, morphological, and physiological adaptations that allow organisms to cope with environmental uncertainty.

Lab Locations

  • 12 East 86th Street Office

    12 East 88th Street
    1200 Amsterdam Ave., MC5557
    New York, NY 10128
    Lab Phone:
    (212) 854-4881

Research Interests

  • Social evolution
  • Mechanisms of social behavior
  • environmental coping
  • evolutionary geonomics


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

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.

Rubenstein, DR. Spatiotemporal environmental variation, risk aversion and the evolution of cooperative breeding as a bet-hedging strategy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 108:10816-10822.