Kaia Tombak is starting a postdoctoral fellowship in Professor Jessica Rothman’s nutritional ecology laboratory at Hunter College, CUNY. She is presently completing her Ph.D. at the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. Tombak is interested in the ecological factors that drive individuals to group and societies to take different shapes, such as egalitarian or hierarchical structures, stable or fission-fusion groups, and mate-guarding vs. territorial mating strategies. Her doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Daniel Rubenstein, compared two zebra species by tracking the grouping behavior of hundreds of individuals with stripe recognition software, determining their resource use and parasite communities using DNA metabarcoding techniques, and factored in predation risk by comparing zebra behavior in sites with different lion densities. Resource use turned out to be central to social behavior, and in Professor Rothman’s lab at Hunter College, she will be filling in key gaps in our understanding of the complex ways in which resource competition affects how societies are structured from a nutritional perspective, breaking down the landscape into hotspots of protein, carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, and micronutrients.
Tombak completed an M.S. at McGill University investigating food competition, female dominance hierarchies and social mechanisms of maintaining egalitarianism in primates in Uganda. She then worked for the UNEP Convention for Biological Diversity and for Wildlife Conservation Society Canada and completed a National Geographic Young Explorers project on oceanic blacktip sharks in South Africa before commencing her doctoral studies.