Mark Laidre

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Hi everyone!

Looking forward to meeting folks in person (rather than just electronically) in June. In the meantime, here's some info about my scientific interests, etc.

See ya soon


I'm a biologist with an obsession for evolution. So naturally, my biggest hero is Charles Darwin (hopefully you celebrated his 200th birthday last year!). I did my undergrad at Cornell (in Neurobiology and Behavior and in Ecology and Evolution) and I did my masters at Cambridge, England (in Zoology). Currently I'm in the last year of my PhD at Princeton (in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). My thesis work has focused on the evolution of communication and the mechanisms by which signals can remain reliable in the face of conflicts. My research has involved empirical studies of communication in monkeys, birds, crabs, and humans as well as theoretical modeling of signal evolution. In the fall I'll be moving to the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley to continue studying the evolution of communication as a Miller fellow.

The questions in science that fascinate me the most are those related to how and why organisms communicate. Without communication, life as we know it would be impossible. I investigate communication across a broad suite of organisms and am particularly excited to mix experiments in the field and laboratory with theoretical modeling and computer simulations. Given Santa Fe's status as a central hub for theoretical work I'm totally psyched about this summer opportunity. I'd like to use it as a springboard for incorporating more theoretical analysis and synthesis into my research.


Most of my scientific expertise is in the empirical domain, in terms of devising finely controlled experiments to test specific hypotheses. However, all my research links experiments with theoretical models and I'm constantly mining the theoretical literature to make links between models and the real world. I thus see my 'optimal' contribution in a working group as a bridge-builder between theoretical concepts and empirical relevance. I'd be particularly excited to work closely with those who have substantial programming experience, so we could build agent-based simulation models on the evolution of complex communication networks. I have a lot of ideas I would love to see turned into computer simulations and ultimately analytical mathematical models.

What I hope to get out of CSSS

Interdisciplinary research is without a doubt where the most fascinating science happens. CSSS provides a great opportunity for such research, given the wide array of people and their variety of backgrounds. I thus look forward to foraging collaborations with those from other fields outside of biology and gaining new insights from fields like economics, physics, neuroscience, and sociology that will enrich my research for long into the future.

Possible projects

I have several possible projects in mind which fall at the intersection of evolution, networks, and communication. I am especially interested in building mechanistic models that explore how human gossip evolved. Gossip -- the ability to talk about third parties -- is a uniquely human trait that no other animal species appears to possess. This special trait provides a phase-shift in our communication abilities, leading to networks with emergent and novel biological properties. All this begs the question of how and why gossip evolved. I have several simulation ideas I would like to test out to explore the evolution of gossip. I thus hope to excite enough people about the topic and questions to build a working group on gossip. I'd be happy to give a short tutorial that provides some of the relevant background that motivates this possible project, if it's of interest.