Joshua Caleb Macdonald is a mathematician with a background in archaeology. For his PhD in applied mathematics at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, he used mathematical models to study how populations respond to disturbances in different settings.
In one, he used a coupled differential equation system to compare what happened to plankton after runoff from the land caused an excessive richness of nutrients in bodies of water, leading to algal growth that can be harmful to aquatic ecosystems in certain scenarios. He also analyzed how immune response and differing life histories affect the spread and persistence of foot-and-mouth disease viruses in wild African Buffalo; and examined the different impacts of non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as contact tracing and self-quarantining, on COVID-19 in China and the US.
For his postdoc in the School of Zoology at Tel Aviv University, Dr. Macdonald collaborates with other experts in biology, bio-informatics, and archaeology at TAU and with experts in cultural evolution at Stanford, St Andrews, and Oxford. He brings the analysis tools he honed during his PhD to cultural evolution (the study of how culture changes through time),seeking to answer questions including how patterns of genetic and culture co-vary in different populations, and how ecological, geographical, and climatic factors interact with and impact these patterns. While previous studies quantified relationships between genetic traits and single aspects of culture, Dr. Macdonald seeks to quantify relationships between genetics and varied cultural traits. Possible examples of such covariation include wheat cultivation and the distribution of gluten allergies; dairy practices and lactose tolerance; gathering strategies, such as geographic distribution of peanuts, and peanut allergies, distance from the coast and shellfish allergies; as well as covariation of genetics and language, religion, maritime technology and more.
As part of his postdoc, Dr. Macdonald plans to help construct an interactive website called “Seeing Evolution” that will help middle school and high school teachers explore laboratory and real-world evolutionary scenarios in the classroom.