Jordan Lab: Research

The Jordan lab aims to situate behaviour in the relevant social context using advanced visual and analytical techniques. All animals are at some point in their lives social – through reproduction, competition, development, and many other processes – and these social interactions can change the expression of behaviour, as well as the selection regime in which it occurs.

We seek to understand how behaviour is affected by the social environment, how animals perceive and process social cues, and how environments – both social and physical – change as a consequence of individual behaviour. We take a broad approach, combining proximate neurobiological and genetic mechanisms of social behaviour with large-scale ecological outcomes of social influence and collective behaviour.

Heaven School II

The role of individuality and social hierarchy on emergent group behaviour

In hierarchical social systems, such as those found in human and animal societies and digital systems, individuals may differ in their influence on emergent group properties. This may be due to specific behavioural interactions within networks that either facilitate or inhibit social influence. We measure how social stimuli propagate through wild social networks as a function of the social relationships among individuals. These experiments are primarily conducted in the wild at Lake Tanganyika with the shell dwelling cichlid Neolamprologus multifasciatus, and social spiders in Australia and Panama, using massive deployment of individual tracking to monitor large scale social organisation of thousands of wild individuals.

Neurobiological and cognitive mechanisms of social behaviour

Much of our research concerns the fine-scale neural and cognitive details of social interactions. In particular we are interested in characterizing neurobiological mechanisms that facilitate social influence, linking these proximate mechanisms with broad-scale and emergent properties of social groups. We also take a strong interest in the cognitive abilities of social animals, asking how cognitive abilities covary with social tasks like individual recognition, mate choice, and competition. We use a range of techniques, from measuring the neural activity in different brain regions associated with different social tasks, to examining differences in brain morphology between closely related cichlid species that are social or non-social.

The genetic basis of social and reproductive behaviour

Although the genetic bases of behaviour remain opaque, a small number of systems exist in which the genes mediating aspects of behaviour have been described. We use one of these, the melanocortin-4-receptor (mc4r) locus, which has been implicated in onset of human maturation and obesity, as well as being known to influence social and reproductive tactics in the fish including the swordtail Xiphophorus nigrensis. Our research has revealed a strong gene-by-environment interaction on behaviour, mediated primarily by social environment. We use social manipulations to dissociate mc4r genotype from adult phenotype, allowing independent examinations the influence of genotype, phenotype, and social environment on behaviour, to moves towards an understanding of the genetic mechanisms of social behaviour.


Key Publications

Jordan LA, Maguire S, Hofmann, HA, Kohda M. 2016. The social and ecological consequences of an ‘over-extended’ phenotype. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283 (1822)

Jordan LA, Kokko H, Kasumovic MM. 2014. Reproductive foragers: Spider males choose mates by selecting among available competitive environments. The American Naturalist 183 (5): 638-649

Kasumovic MM, Jordan LA. 2013. The social factors driving settlement and relocation decisions in a solitary and aggregative spider. The American Naturalist 182 (4): 532-541

Jordan LA, Brooks R. 2012. Recent social history alters male courtship preferences. Evolution 66 (1): 280-287

Jordan LA, Avolio C, Herbert-Read JE, Krause J, Rubenstein D, Ward A. 2010. Group structure in a restricted entry system is mediated by both resident and joiner preferences. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 64(7): 1099-1106

Jordan LA, Allsopp MH, Oldroyd BP, Wossler TH, Beekman M. 2008. Cheating honeybee workers produce royal offspring. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275 (1632): 345-351



In essence, our group asks how who we are with affects what we do, and how what we do affects who we are with. Although seemingly simple, these are fundamental aspects of animal behaviour that can influence the strength and direction of selection, the preferences and behavioural strategies employed by animals, and ultimately the course of social evolution.

We use a variety of techniques, centred on an understanding of the natural history of our various study species, to examine how social interactions and individual responses feed back on each other to shape animal behaviour. We employ analyses of social cognition, social and physical connection networks, neural activity, and genetics to understand the interaction between social environment and behaviour.

Our study systems are varied, but we focus on social insects, spiders, and fish to answer proximate and ultimate questions about the evolution of social and sexual behaviour. All of our work is situated in the framework of realistic social, ecological and selective contexts, and we have field sites at Lake Tanganyika, the Red Sea, and the rainforests of Panama. In all these systems we aim to use direct measurements of fitness and selection in the wild to link proximate mechanisms with ultimate evolutionary dynamics of social behaviour.