Human behavioral ecology: current research and future prospects

D Nettle, Mhairi A Gibson, DW Lawson, R Sear

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

142 Citations (Scopus)


Human behavioral ecology (HBE) is the study of human behavior from an adaptive perspective. It focuses in particular on how human behavior varies with ecological context. Although HBE is a thriving research area, there has not been a major review published in a journal for over a decade, and much has changed in that time. Here, we describe the main features of HBE as a paradigm and review HBE research published since the millennium. We find that the volume of HBE research is growing rapidly, and its composition is changing in terms of topics, study populations, methodology, and disciplinary affiliations of authors. We identify the major strengths of HBE research as its vitality, clear predictions, empirical fruitfulness, broad scope, conceptual coherence, ecological validity, increasing methodological rigor, and topical innovation. Its weaknesses include a relative isolation from the rest of behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology and a somewhat limited current topic base. As HBE continues to grow, there is a major opportunity for it to serve as a bridge between the natural and social sciences and help unify disparate disciplinary approaches to human behavior. HBE also faces a number of open questions, such as how understanding of proximate mechanisms is to be integrated with behavioral ecology’s traditional focus on optimal behavioral strategies, and the causes and extent of maladaptive behavior in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1031-1040
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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