Joshua B. Plotkin

Joshua Plotkin

Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor of the Natural Sciences

(sabbatical leave Fall 2023, Spring 2024)

Research Interests

219 Lynch Laboratory


Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows, 2007
PhD, Princeton University, 2003
AB, Harvard College, 1999

Research Interests

I use mathematics and computation to study questions in evolutionary biology and ecology.  Research in the group is concerned primarily with adaptation in populations. Related interests include the evolution of robustness and adaptability, the evolutionary ecology of viral populations, the nature of genetic drift, the dynamics of protein translation, and the evolution of culture and social norms (read more).


Selected Publications

Google Scholar

Kessinger T, Tarnita C, Plotkin JB. Evolution of norms for judging social behavior. PNAS (2023) [pdf]

Wang G, Su Q, Wang L, Plotkin JB. Reproductive variance can drive behavioral dynamics. PNAS (2023) [pdf]

Cooney D, Levin SA, Mori Y, Plotkin JB. Evolutionary dynamics within and among competing groups. PNAS (2023) [pdf]

Su Q, McAvoy A, Mori Y, Plotkin JB. Evolution of prosocial behavior in multilayer populations. Nature Human Behaviour (2022) [pdf]

McAvoy A, Mori Y, Plotkin JB. Selfish optimization and collective learning in populations. Physica D 439: 133426 (2022) [pdf]

Su Q, Allen B, Plotkin JB. Evolution of cooperation with asymmetric social interactions. PNAS 119:2113468118 (2021) [pdf]

Twomey C, Roberts G, Brainard D, Plotkin JB. What we talk about when we talk about colors. PNAS 118:2109237118 (2021) [pdf]

Hirshleifer D, Plotkin JB. Moonshots, investment booms, and selection bias in the transmission of cultural traits. PNAS 118:2015571118 (2021) [pdf]

Radzvilavicius A, Kessinger T, Plotkin JB. Adherence to public institutions that foster cooperation. Nature Communications 12: 3567 (2021) [pdf]

Stewart A, Mosleh M, Diakonova M, Arechar A, Rand D, Plotkin JB. Information gerrymandering and undemocratic decisions. Nature 583: 117-121 (2019) [pdf]

Otwinowski J, McCandlish D, Plotkin JB. Inferring the shape of global epistasis. PNAS 115: 7550-7558 (2018) [pdf]

Newberry MG, Ahern C, Clark R, Plotkin JB. Detecting evolutionary forces in language change. Nature 551: 223-226 (2017) [pdf]

Shah P, McCandlish M, Plotkin JB. Contingency and entrenchment in protein evolution under purifying selection. PNAS 112:3226–3235 (2015) [pdf]

Stewart A, Plotkin JB. Collapse of cooperation in evolving games. PNAS 111: 17558-17563 (2014) [pdf]

Shah P, Ding Y, Niemczyk M, Kudla G, Plotkin JB. Rate-limiting steps in yeast protein translation. Cell 153:1589-1601 (2013) [pdf]

Stewart A, Plotkin JB. From extortion to generosity, evolution in the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. PNAS 110: 15348-15353 (2013) [pdf]

Morlon H, Parsons T, Plotkin JB. Reconciling molecular phylogenies with the fossil record. PNAS 108: 16327–16332 (2012) [pdf]

Lipsitch M, Plotkin JB, Simonsen L, Bloom B. Evolution, safety, and highly pathogenic influenza viruses. Science 336:1529-153 (2012)  [pdf]

Der R, Epstein C, Plotkin JB. Generalized population models and the nature of genetic drift. Theoretical Population Biology 80: 80–98 (2011) [pdf]

Kryazhimskiy S, Dushoff J, Bazykin G, Plotkin JB. Prevalence of epistasis in the evolution of influenza A surface proteins. PLoS Genetics 7: 1001301 (2011) [pdf]

Draghi J, Parsons T, Wagner G, Plotkin JB. Mutational robustness can facilitate adaptation. Nature 426: 353–355 (2010) [pdf]

Kudla G, Murray AW, Tollervey D, Plotkin JB. Coding-sequence determinants of gene expression in Escherichia coli. Science 324: 255-258 (2009) [pdf]