A mongoose huddle

A mongoose huddle

Professor Michael Cant
Professor of Evolutionary Biology


I study the evolution of social behaviour and life history in social animals ranging from insects to primates. I use evolutionary models to make predictions about how individuals should respond to each other's behaviour and to their environment, and test these predictions through experiments and observations on a range of social species. The goal is to discover general principles that explain variation in the way that animals cooperate or compete with one another, and how different types of animal society evolved. 

My main research organism is the banded mongoose, a highly cooperative mammal which lives in mixed-sex groups of around 20 individuals. This species is unusual because all adult females in each group mate and give birth together on the same day, but most of the post-natal care of offspring is provided by non-breeding males.  I run a long-term study of a population of around 250 animals in Queen Elizabeth National Park, western Uganda. We use this population to study social influences on aging and life history, the causes and consequences of within- and intergroup conflict, and the evolution of helping behaviour.

In addition to banded mongooses I work on a population of paper wasps in southern Spain with Prof Jeremy Field (Exeter, Biosciences), and on a population of resident killer whales off the northwest coast of the USA with Prof Darren Croft (Exeter, Psychology). My main collaborator for theoretical work is Prof Rufus Johnstone (Cambridge, Zoology). Together we have developed theoretical models to understand competition within groups, and life history evolution in humans and other long-lived social animals. I recently started a laboratory project on social evolution in primitive termites. For further information and publications on all my research see my group website socialisresearch.org.

I am a member of the Behaviour research group, and the Human Biological and Cultural Evolution Group. For publications, videos and further information on my research see my group website here.

Latest news: May 2016: Explore our brand new website socialisresearch.org. In May 2015 Michael won a 5 year Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. Listen to Michael on Radio 4's The Human Hive; or to his audio diary from Uganda on NERC's Planet Earth website (starts 2:45). Read about his recent research on why only humans and two species of whale have evolved menopause; how banded mongoose 'escorts' pass on foraging traditions to the offspring in their care; and the conflicts that lie beneath the surface of apparently cooperative animal societies.


1999 PhD, University of Cambridge
1993 BSc(Hons) Zoology 1st Class, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne


2015 Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award
2013 Professor of Evolutionary Biology
2011 Associate Professor, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus
2007 Royal Society University Research Fellow, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus
2003 Royal Society University Research Fellow, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge
2001 Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellow. Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, New York, USA
1999 Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Biology, University College London


Contact details

Tel+44 (0) 1326 253771
AddressDaphne du Maurier Building
University of Exeter
Penryn Campus
TR10 9FE

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