Université de Strasbourg

Stephen Dobson


Department of Biological Sciences, Auburn University, United States & USIAS Fellow at the Hubert Curien Pluridisciplinary Institute (IPHC), University of Strasbourg

Stephen Dobson, USIAS Fellow 2018

Professor F. Stephen Dobson is an evolutionary biologist with a broad understanding of ecology and genetics at the population level. He has a long career of studying the evolutionary biology of behaviours, particularly social behaviours. He has published over 140 peer-reviewed research articles, and served on the editorial boards of Animal Behaviour, Ecology, and Ecological Monographs (currently the longest-serving subject editor for the Ecological Society of America). Stephen Dobson was awarded the title of Chevalier of Academic Palms in 2002, when he was an invited Professor at the Paris 13 University. He received a Fulbright Fellowship from the U.S. Department of State in 2004 for a visit to India to study social behaviour and dispersal in bonnet macaques.

His work in France has included ethological studies of mice (at the Paris 13 University), research on sexual selection of king penguins in the Southern Antarctic Territories of France (from CNRS Montpellier, as a Director of Research) and, most recently, on ageing and stress in ground-dwelling squirrels in Canada (with the University of Strasbourg). He uses model animal systems to study basic properties of social behaviour, kin selection, sexual selection, and evolutionary responses to climate change. His USIAS Fellowship will investigate the integrative evolutionary biology of ageing and stress, from the molecular to population levels.

Project - Alleviating social stress: effects of social buffers on ageing in wild mammals

December 2018 – November 2021

Ageing is a process that concerns everyone, and becomes a more immediate concern with advancing years. This process obviously influences some individuals more than others, and the causes of variations in ageing come from genetic and environmental sources of stress. This process of ageing occurs in all mammalian species, if not all species in general. Thus, we can learn a lot about ageing by studying mammals like other primates, or more easily from experiments on common species like rodents. My colleagues and I therefore chose a ubiquitous rodent, the Columbian ground squirrel, for studies of the environmental sources of variations in ageing.

Recent advances in molecular biology clearly indicate that the ageing process depends on fundamental underlying aspects of cell and molecular processes, such as the production of oxygen free radicals by the energy machines of our cells, the mitochondria. Another source of ageing at the cell level is the loss of DNA at the ends of chromosomes, regions called telomeres. We will use advanced molecular analyses to discern the effects of stress at the cell and molecular level to behavioural stressors at the population level. We chose the ground squirrels for study because they are social and depend on cooperation with close relatives for reproduction and survival, and thus evolutionary fitness. As a result, we can trace the sources of ageing and stress at the social level down to the molecular level, and view this integrative process through the lens of evolution by natural selection.

During the USIAS project, Stephen Dobson will collaborate with Dr. Vincent Viblanc at the Hubert Curien Pluridisciplinary Institute (IPHC).

Post-doc biography - Sebastian Sosa

Hubert Curien Pluridisciplinary Institute (IPHC), University of Strasbourg

Sebastian Sosa, USIAS Fellow 2018


Sebastian Sosa has an academic background in ecology, ethology (Toulouse III, Paris XIII, Rennes I) and primatology (University of Barcelona). During his post-doctoral research at Sun Yat-sen University, China, in 2017-2018, he developed his skills in social network analysis applied to animal societies. Sebastian Sosa studies the underlying mechanisms that allow the emergence of specific social structures and their adaptive structural properties. How do individuals interact between each other? How is a society structured to face challenges induced by natural selection (group cohesion, hierarchical structure, etc.)? These are some of the questions examined by Sebastian Sosa using social networking tools. He recently joined the Department of Ecology, Physiology and Ethology at the IPHC where he is working with Vincent Viblanc and Professor Steve Dobson on the effects of sociality on physiological stress in Colombian ground squirrels.




  • Trailer for the film "To the heart of the social network: Neighbourhood quarrels of the Columbian ground squirrel", awarded as Best Science Film 2021 by the Green Screen Film Awards:

Teaser - To the heart of the social network from Aurélien Prudor - Wild Talks on Vimeo.

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