Darwin Evolving: Distinguished Naturalists

Dr. Daniel T. Blumstein Feb. 2, 2010

Daniel T. Blumstein

The Sound of Fear

What is it that makes screams scary? Why do animals scream? Why do they emit other sorts of alarm vocalizations? An individual might help others by alarm calling or screaming, but these sounds also increase the screamer's risk of predation. The opposing benefits and costs of screaming create an evolutionary paradox. I will address this evolutionary paradox by describing insights from over two decades of studying marmots - large, mostly-alpine, ground squirrels - throughout the northern hemisphere. I will talk both about the evolution and function of alarm calls and end with a discussion of similarities among species, including humans, in the structure of fear screams and other scary and arousing sounds.


Daniel T. Blumstein is Professor and Chair of the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He is a faculty affiliate with the Human Complex Systems Program at UCLA, and a faculty associate with the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics. Dr. Blumstein is a world's authority on animal communication, antipredator behavior, and the integration of animal behavior and conservation biology. He has studied behavior in birds, lizards, fish, and mammals--including 8 of the 14 species of marmots. He currently runs one of the longest-running studies of individually identified mammals; the 48-year study of yellow-bellied marmots at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte, Colorado. Dr. Blumstein teaches in the EEB Field Biology quarter--our department's capstone course--and has taken UCLA undergraduates to Australia (three times), Kenya, and the Virgin Islands where students conduct cutting edge research (about 2/3 of past group projects have been published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals). He is a past recipient of the Brian P. Copenhaver award at UCLA for innovation in teaching with technology. He has published over 175 articles and other scholarly contributions, developed one major software program, published two books, and is currently working on two additional books. He has been a trustee of the Rocky Mountain Biological Society and the Ocean Conservation Society. He serves on the Animal Behavior Society's Conservation Committee, and has served on the recovery teams or been an advisor for the recover of a number of endangered species. He is a past editor of the journal Animal Behaviour, is an associate editor of The Quarterly Review of Biology, and is on the editorial boards of Behavioral Ecology and Biology Letters. Dr. Blumstein was a Fulbright Fellow to Pakistan, where he began his marmot studies. His research has been supported by the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Australian Research Council, and the National Geographic Society.