Irene García-Ruiz, PhD

Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology Columbia University


I am a behavioural ecologist and Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Rubenstein Lab in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University. My research interests focus on answering ultimate questions on the evolution of animal behaviour, with particular interest on social evolution and cooperation. For that, I take an integrative approach that includes theoretical models, experimental and observational empirical research, and comparative methods to generate and test novel hypotheses.

During my postdoc at Columbia University with Prof. Dustin Rubenstein, I investigate the evolution of cooperation by exploring the phenomenon of age-dependent task specialization in vertebrates. In addition, I look at the role of reproductive conflict mediating sociality in different ecological environments. I use a combination of theoretical models and comparative methods, as well as field based empirical research using the superb starling as model species.

I obtained my PhD in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Bern with Prof. Michael Taborsky. I investigated different direct and indirect fitness benefits that shape the evolution of cooperative breeding, in particular the pay-to-stay and group augmentation hypothesis in connection with kin selection. I used a combination of mathematical and computational modelling, with behavioural experiments in the model species Neolamprologus pulcher, a cichlid fish from Lake Tanganyika.

I did my maters in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter. During my master’s thesis with Prof. Tim Fawcett, I investigated how males may adjust courtship displays depending on the number of rival signalers, and how flexible displays may coevolve with the female preference using a theoretical approach.

I received my Bachelor degree in Biology at the University of Valencia. During my bachelor’s thesis with Prof. Juan S. Monrós, I researched the phenology of emergence of different species of cave dwelling bats during their breeding period. I focused on how the raise in their energetic expense at different reproductive stages is traded against a higher predation risk of earlier emergence.


New paper on negotiation in cooperation
My paper entitled: “Nepotism mediates enforced cooperation in asymmetric negotiations ” is now published in iScience.
Interview by Mysteries of Science Podcast
Does true altruism exist in nature? Find out in my podcast interview for The Week Junior magazine.
Poster presentation at Columbia
Poster presentation at the Postdoc Research Symposium at Columbia University on the "Fitness drivers of division of labor in vertebrates".
Teaching assistant in Kenya
TA for the course "Tropical Biology" carried out at the Mpala Research Center in Kenya.
Volunteer at Girls' Science Day
Together with middle school girls, we made solar cells and learned how fun science is!
R Workshop
Taught an R Workshop on data manipulation and visualization at Columbia University to undergraduate, master and PhD students.
Presentation at Behaviour 2023
I presented my work on the evolution of enforced mediated cooperation at Behaviour congress in Bielefeld.
Moving to New York!
Soon starting my postdoc in Rubenstein Lab at Columbia University after obtaining the SNSF Mobility grant.
New paper on the evolution of courtship displays
My paper entitled: “The evolution of dynamic and flexible courtship displays that reveal individual quality” is now published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
New paper on the evolution of altruism and survival benefits
My paper entitled: “Group augmentation on trial: helpers in small groups enhance antipredator defence of eggs” is now published in Biology Letters.
Presentation at ISBE
I presented my work on the evolution of cooperative breeding at the biannual congress of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology in Stockholm.
Interview for the National Swiss Radio!
Interviewed for the Radio Télévision Suisse, the German science newspaper Higgs and the Spanish newspaper Levante about my recently published paper in Science Advances.
New paper in Science Advances!
My paper entitled: “The evolution of cooperative breeding by direct and indirect fitness effects” is now published in Science Advances.
I defended my doctoral dissertation!
After a lot of hard work, great experiences, and a tear or two, I successfully presented my doctoral dissertation and obtained insigni cum laude!