Mary C. Towner, Associate Professor

Human Behavioral Ecology, Biological Anthropology, Evolutionary Medicine

Ph.D., 1999, U.C. Davis


Specific Interests

My research is in the field of human behavioral ecology. Human behavioral ecologists ask how the theories developed in anthropology and biology (especially animal behavior, ecology, and evolution) can be used to better understand variation in human behavior and life histories. For example, I have used historical records and dynamic modeling to investigate the importance of inheritance and marriage to human dispersal in 18th and early-19th century Massachusetts. I also have a strong interest in quantitative methods and have reviewed parental investment studies in order to evaluate the statistical approaches used by human behavioral ecologists. My current research interests include cultural macroevolution among Western North American Indian societies, alternative models of the demographic transition in Bangladesh, and evolutionary medicine, especially parental investment decisions regarding breastfeeding.

Selected Publications

  • Shenk, MK, MC Towner, K Starkweather, CJ Atkisson, and N Alam. 2014. The evolutionary demography of sex ratios in rural Bangladesh. In Gibson, MA and DW Lawson (Eds.) Applied Evolutionary Anthropology (pp. 141-173). New York: Springer
  • Shenk, MK, MC Towner, HC Kress, N Alam. 2013. A model comparison approach shows stronger support for economic models of fertility decline. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:8045-8050
  • Towner, MC, MN Grote, M Borgerhoff Mulder. 2012. Cultural macroevolution on neighbor graphs: vertical and horizontal transmission among Western North American Indian societies. Human Nature 23:283-305
  • Glover, SM and MC Towner. 2009. Long-distance dispersal to the mining frontier in late 19th century Colorado. Behaviour 146:677-700
  • Towner, MC and B Luttbeg. 2007. Alternative statistical approaches to the use of data as evidence for hypotheses in human behavioral ecology. Evolutionary Anthropology 16:107-118
  • Borgerhoff Mulder, M, CL Nunn, MC Towner. 2006. Macroevolutionary studies of cultural trait transmission. Evolutionary Anthropology 15:52-64
  • Towner, MC. 2002. Linking dispersal and marriage in humans: life history data from Oakham, Massachusetts, USA (1750-1850). Evolution and Human Behavior 23:337-357
  • Towner, MC. 2001. Linking dispersal and resources in humans: life history data from Oakham, Massachusetts, USA (1750-1850). Human Nature 12:321-349
  • Towner, MC. 1999. A dynamic model of human dispersal in a land-based economy. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 46:82-94