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Behavioral Ecology. What exactly is “ Behavior” and “Behavioral Ecology” ? Behavior

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Behavioral ecology
Behavioral Ecology

  • What exactly is “Behavior” and “Behavioral Ecology”?

    • Behavior

      • All observable or measurable muscular or secretory responses (or lack thereof) and related phenomena like changes in blood flow, surface pigments, etc., in response to changes in an animal’s internal or external environment

Animal behavior
Animal Behavior

  • Using this definition, behavior is broadly inclusive

    • Simply like sweating or panting

    • To more complex like

      • Courtship

      • Communication

Behavioral ecology1
Behavioral Ecology

  • Behaviors are not random

    • Animals respond in specific ways to specific stimuli in their internal or external environment

    • For example,

      • Temperature

      • Response to predator

      • Response to hunger

    • Based on evolutionary history

Behavioral ecology

Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Background

  • Darwin (1859), Origin of the Species

    • Contains many anecdotal stories of animal behavior

    • Instinct Chapter- suggests ways in which natural selection may have acted gradually to shape rudimentary forms of instinctive behaviors into sophisticated instincts

Behavior ecology and evolution background
Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Background

  • Darwin’s 4 postulates (review)

    • 1) Traits of organisms vary

    • 2) Variation causes differences in survival and reproduction

    • 3) This variation is heritable

    • 4) Survival and reproduction are non-random

  • Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)

    • First attempt to explain sexual behaviors

Behavioral ecology

Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Background

  • But in the 1800s behavior was often anthropomorphized

  • C.L. Morgan (academic grandchild of Darwin) spoke out against anthropomorphic attributes of behaviors

    • We should "endeavor to distinguish fact from observer’s inference”

    • “In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher physical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of one which stands lower in the psychological scale”

  • Oskar Pfungst’s 1907 study of the performance of Clever Hans- a horse reported to read numbers, spell, and to make calculations

    • Pfungstused trials in which the examiners did and did not know the answers to the questions

    • Hans could only correctly answer the questions when his examiners knew the answers

    • Hans had learned to respond to small involuntary movements of examiners and couldn’t actually read or perform calculations

Behavior ecology and evolution ethology
Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Ethology

  • Early-Mid 1900s

    • Ethology developed

      • The study of the evolutionary or functional significance of species specific behaviors

Konrad Lorenz

Niko Tinbergen

Behavioral ecology

Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Ethology

  • Investigated the idea that behavior could be approached evolutionarily

    • If so, then behaviors could be used to classify animals just as anatomical, morphological or physiological traits are used

      • i.e., instinctive behaviors are similar in more closely related species and differ more in less related species

      • But, even though they are similar in closely related species, they are still nonetheless different

    • Ethologists formed ethograms

      • A catalogue, list, or inventory of behaviors for a species

    • This ethogram would then be used to ask questions regarding the adaptiveness or function of the various behaviors

Behavioral ecology

Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Ethology

  • Konrad Lorenz

    • Famous for theory of imprinting

Tinbergen s 4 questions 1963
Tinbergen’s 4 questions (1963)

  • Form the basis for how many behavior studies are done today

  • Proximate causes of behavior

    • Causal explanations are concerned with mechanisms

    • How does something work or develop

      1) Causation?

      2) Development/Ontogeny?

  • Ultimate causes of behavioral diversity

    • Functional explanations focus on why these behaviors have been selected

    • Why did a behavior evolve? Why was it selected?

      3) What is the adaptive advantage or function?

      4) What is the evolutionary history of the animal which led to this behavior?

Behavior ecology and evolution ethology1
Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Ethology

  • Ethologists also gave us concepts like

    • Appetive behaviors

      • Variable acts or behaviors

      • Not necessarily the same among members of the same species

        • For example, how an animal finds food or mates

    • Consummatory behaviors

      • Invariable acts always performed the same by all members of the species

      • Stereotypical behaviors repeated without variation

        • For example, mating, killing prey

Behavior ecology and evolution ethology2
Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Ethology

  • Consummatory behaviors tend to be fixed

    • That is they represent a fixed action pattern (FAP)

    • A FAP is the behavior produced in response to a specific stimulus, the sign stimulus

    • The sign stimulus triggers some genetically coded innate releasing mechanism to produce the FAP

      • Sticklebacks -Stickleback video

Behavior ecology and evolution ethology3
Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Ethology

  • Another Tinbergen experiment

  • Red spot on beak of herring seagulls stimulates pecking feeding behaviors by juvenile gulls

    • Spots of different color do not induce pecking

    • Movement is also a key stimulus

Behavioral ecology

Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Ethology

  • While there are FAPs, there are also modal action patterns

    • These may actually be more common

    • MAPs are the mode behavior

      • i.e., most of the individuals respond to the sign stimulus with a specific behavior, but not all individuals do

      • There is variation in response to the sign stimulus among individuals

        • Allows for evolution

  • Regardless, FAPs and MAPs result in species-typical behaviors

    • Behaviors broadly characteristic of a species and are performed by all members of the species

Behavioral ecology

Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Behaviorism

  • Comparative/Behavioral Psychology also developed in the early –mid 1900s

    • -Focused on behaviors that could be measured, trained, and changed in individuals (rather than the species)

      • All behaviors are acquired through conditioning (learning)

      • Developed to examine environmental requirements for behavioral development in the young

    • Championed by James Watson

      • “give me a dozen healthy infants, well -formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take anyone at random and train them to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggar man and thief , regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors”

Behavior ecology and evolution behaviorism
Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Behaviorism

  • Classical Conditioning- Pavlov’s Dog

    • Dogs salivate when presented with food

    • If presented with food and a bell, the dog learns to associate food with the bell

    • After conditioning to predictive stimulus (bell), salivates at bell

  • Instrumental Conditioning- Skinner Box

    • Animal performs a behavior and is either rewarded or punished

B. F. Skinner

Ethology vs comparative psychology
Ethology vs Comparative Psychology

“Nature vs Nurture”

But it is nature and nurture
But it is nature AND nurture

  • After 6 days, chicks prefer to peck at the model of their own species

  • the tendency to peck is probably innate, but the object that is pecked is modified as a result of experience

But it is nature and nurture1
But it is nature AND nurture

  • Wells 1958

    • Cuttlefish latency to attack shrimp declines with or without conditioning

      • i.e. learning can take place without reinforcement

      • Counters the idea that conditioning is necessary for learning

Not Rewarded



But it is nature and nurture2
But it is nature AND nurture

  • The experiment involved nine independent groups of chicks:

    • Tested their pecking accuracy in relation to maturity and practice

      • Chicks were kept naïve by keeping them in the dark

But it is nature and nurture3
But it is nature AND nurture

  • Problems with ALL behaviors are innate

    • Genes do affect behavior, but not all behavior patterns are inherited

    • All animals develop within some environment that shapes their behaviors

    • Experiments which attempt to deprive an animal of an environment are still presenting an environment where learning can take place

  • Problems with ALL behaviors are learned

    • Learning is a process that changes pre-existing behaviors

    • There are several experiments that show that some behaviors can be learned or “trained” no matter the conditioning

  • Therefore, all behaviors are a product of both genes and the environment

Behavior ecology and evolution sociobiology
Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution: Sociobiology

  • Developed in 1978

    • E. O Wilson (U of A graduate)

    • Merges ethology and social organization

      • i.e., looks at evolution of social behaviors

      • How and why certain social organizations have evolved


  • Examples:

    • Why do animals act cooperatively?

      • Dolphins and other marine mammal act as a group to corral fishes

    • Cleaner animals

      • Cleaner shrimp and cleaner wrasse have “cleaning stations” in which they feed off invertebrate parasites on unrelated fishes

Behavior ecology and evolution conservation behavior
Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution:Conservation Behavior

  • The newest discipline to contribute to behavioral ecology: Conservation behavior

“In a world that is patently disturbed and as pristine environments that serve as scientific baselines disappear, it will be increasingly difficult to determine which behaviors are adaptive and which anachronistic.”

Keeping behavioral ecology up to date
Keeping Behavioral Ecology Up to Date

  • Advocates for the application of animal behavior to wildlife conservation problems

    • Applies behavior to conservation, restoration, and management

Conservation behavior
Conservation Behavior

  • For instance, determining what habitat animal perceive as risky to reduce human disturbance