Peter M. Buston

University of California, Santa Barbara
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis
735 State Street, Suite 300
Santa Barbara, CA 93101-5504

Tel: (805) 892-2527
Fax: (805) 892-2510

Curriculum vitae

Previous website

- young and fresh faced

General Interests

Most broadly, my interests are in the behavior, ecology, and evolution of animals. More specifically, I am interested in how ecological, social, and genetic factors combine to influence the evolution of individual strategies within animal societies. I am becoming interested in how individual strategies influence population dynamics, and the conservation implications of this relationship.

I have three goals: 1) to provide a detailed understanding of particular animal societies (e.g. Buston 2003a, 2003b, 2004a, 2004b); 2) to determine whether there are general principles that provide insight into all animal societies (e.g. Buston et al. in review; Buston in prep.); and 3) to challenge dogma (e.g. Buston & Emlen 2003, Buston et al. 2004).

My research is question based rather than organism based, and I do what it takes to address the most compelling questions. My particular strength is in experimental marine fieldwork (Buston 2003a, 2003b, 2004a, 2004b). I complement this strength with a variety of tools: multivariate analyses (Buston 2003a, 2004b); null models (Buston et al. 2004; Buston et al. in review); game theory (Buston et al. in review, Buston in prep.); and molecular genetics (Buston et al. in prep.).

- the rigors of fieldwork

Group structure of the clown anemonefish Amphiprion percula.

My Ph.D. research, advised by Stephen Emlen and Paul Sherman, investigated the breeding system of the clown anemonefish, Amphiprion percula, in Madang Lagoon, Papua New Guinea. This was the first investigation of cooperative breeding in a marine fish. Groups of clownfish are composed of a breeding pair and 0-4 non-breeders, and superficially look like groups of many cooperatively breeding birds and mammals. I discovered that dominant individuals controlled the group membership of their subordinates (Buston 2003b), but that they did not accrue any benefits from the presence of subordinates (Buston 2004b). Subordinates, on the other hand, benefited from settling in a group and queuing to inherit breeding positions (Buston 2004a). This asymmetry in the benefits of group living created a paradox: why would dominants allow subordinates to stay when they provide no benefits and are always potential challengers for dominant status? I demonstrated that subordinates avoid becoming actual challengers for dominant status, and thus avoid lethal eviction, by restraining their growth and maintaining a discrete size difference between themselves and their immediate dominant (Buston 2003a). The precise social regulation of growth that I demonstrated is not only a remarkable piece of fish biology, but also an entirely new mechanism by which conflicts of interest within animal groups can be resolved.

Science magazine, Editor's Choice

New Scientist, News

CNN, Science & Space

National Public Radio, Science Friday

Shane Paterson, Photographs

- such a pretty little fish

Population structure of the clown anemonefish Amphiprion percula

I am collaborating with Steve Bogdanowicz and Rick Harrison (Cornell University), to determine whether or not groups of clownfish are composed of kin, using microsatellites (Buston et al. in prep.). Either a negative or a positive result will be interesting. A negative result would indicate that peaceful subordinate cooperation (growth restraint) can occur even in the absence of kin selected benefits. A positive result would indicate that dominants do benefit from the presence of their subordinates, because the subordinates are relatives who go on to inherit the territory and breed following the death of the dominants. Further, a positive result would be fascinating from the perspective of marine population ecologists, because it would be the first demonstration of natal philopatry in a marine fish. This work lays the foundation for us to conduct a unique investigation of dispersal vectors in a marine fish.

- the determined fieldworker

Ecology and evolution of hermaphroditic breeding systems

I am collaborating with Robert Warner (University of California at Santa Barbara) and Philip Munday (James Cook University) to gain a greater understanding of the ecology and evolution of hermaphrodites (e.g. Buston et al. 2004). There is an enormous diversity of hermaphroditic breeding systems distributed throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. Recent empirical advances (including observations from clownfish) reveal that current theory cannot easily explain all of the observed variation. Therefore, I am developing new game-theoretic models, to generate explicit predictions about how ecological, social, and genetic factors combine to influence the distribution of reproduction within the breeding systems of sequential and simultaneous hermaphrodites (Buston in prep.). These models will provide an explicit set of assumptions and predictions that we intend to test using field studies of tropical marine fishes.

- anyone for bi-directional sex-change?

Cognitive processes underlying human mate choice

I am collaborating with Stephen Emlen (Cornell University), to investigate the cognitive processes underlying human mate choice. We published our first paper last year, in which we documented that the selectivity of mate preference is contingent on self-perception, in both men and women (Buston & Emlen 2003). More importantly, we demonstrated that both men and women seem to use a ‘likes attract’ mechanism rather than a ‘reproductive potentials attract’ mechanism when translating self-perception into selectivity of mate preference. We are now working on a follow-up that investigates the relative strength of several effects on the selectivity of mate preference (Buston & Emlen in prep.). Our work has opened up an entirely new avenue of research within evolutionary psychology.

Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Update

New Scientist, News

CNN, Science & Space

- likes attract