Animal Behaviour Evolution and Mechanisms

Animal Behaviour Evolution and Mechanisms

Peter Kappeler
Published in: Springer-Verlag
Release Year: 2010
ISBN: 978-3-642-02623-2
Pages: 712
Edition: First Edition
File Size: 15 MB
File Type: pdf
Language: English

Description of Animal Behaviour:

Evolution and Mechanisms

The study of animal behavior has become one of the fastest-growing bio-logical disciplines in recent decades. This development can be easily inferred, for example, from the steady increase in the total number of publications on any aspect of animal behavior, in particular also in journals  with a more general readership (e.g. Nature, Proceedings of the Royal Society or Current Biology), the ever-increasing number of participants at international conferences (e.g. IEC or ISBE), and from the growing numbers of students choosing courses in this field. This development has several causes, of which I find three particularly compelling. First, it is increasingly being appreciated that behavior is the crucial level at which an individual’s genotype and phenotype interface with the environment. Recognizing behavior as the main mechanism animals employ to ascertain their homeostasis, growth, survival, and reproduction, therefore, provides a deep understanding of organismal integration and adaptation. Second, the astonishing success of the study of animal behavior also has importantly to do with the intellectual flexibility and methodological inter-disciplinarity required for comprehensive analyses of behavior. Today, students of behavior are jacks-of-all-trades; importing, applying and improving methods from many neighboring disciplines, such as molecular genetics, physiology or micro-electronics, as well as concepts and theories from less obvious sources, such as economics or sociology, for example. Finally, Charles Darwin’s theory of natural and sexual selection provides the study of animal behavior with a powerful and firm theoretical framework that many closely-related disciplines (e.g. neurobiology) are lacking.
This increase in the number of studies published in a growing number of ever more specialized journals and the application of new concepts, methods, and technologies also have frustrating consequences, however. Except perhaps for a few exceptional colleagues, no one today is really able to develop and maintain an active research program and to read all interesting and important publications and books that appear every month. We are increasingly forced to specialize and to restrict our attention to a few topics or taxa, despite a much larger intellectual curiosity. Most readers with a Ph.D. will be familiar with these constraints set by increasing administrative loads, constantly changing teaching obligations as well as new types of expectations of our employers about our publication and grant acquisition records. This tendency to specialize backfires, however, when new generations of students need to be introduced comprehensively to all aspects of the study of animal behavior, when they ask for background information to pursue their own personal curiosity, or when they ask great questions in a lecture course or seminar.
One solution to this problem is to identify a useful introductory text or up-to-date review. In practice, however, textbooks tend to focus more on general principles than on current research and reviews are typically written for specialists, and are, hence, of limited use if you want to keep abreast the literature in a broader field. A collection of authoritative reviews written by active leaders in their respective fields can fill this gap if they specifically address a non-specialist readership (i.e. not the closest peers), summarise and explain recent developments, and if they provide a forward-looking perspective for interested students as well as their closest colleagues. In 1978, John Krebs and Nick Davies began providing just this type of guidance for the then-latest and fastest-growing field of animal behavior: behavioral ecology. Their subsequent four edited volumes have informed and influenced several generations of students and academic mentors alike by providing a useful and stimulating basis for graduate seminars, a competent source of reference for non-specialists as well as a source of inspiration for newcomers and experts alike. The study of animal behavior has made enormous leaps forward since the publication of the last Krebs and Davies volume in 1997 (Blackwell).
Others have also sensed the void left by the non-continuation of their series (Danchin et al. 2008: ‘Behavioural Ecology’ Oxford University Press; Westneat and Fox 2010: ‘Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology’ Oxford University Press), but the field has become so wide that no single volume can do justice to the existing diversity of behavioral research projects any more. A recent trend among volumes of this kind appears to have been the concentration on a regional (i.e. either francophone or anglo-American) set
of peers and their work; perhaps because they share certain preferred formats for teaching. The current volume attempts to fill a similar niche by featuring the state of the art in the study of animal behavior in central continental Europe, where etiology has its deepest roots. In addition, because of space limitations, the contributions to this volume only represent a subset of current major research topics, but cover all recent international developments. For historical reasons, ethologist in German-speaking coun-tries have mainly been interested in mechanisms, but the number of researchers embracing ultimate questions have been growing steadily. The title of this volume was therefore chosen to reflect this development.
However, all authors were requested to address both ultimate and proximate aspects in the presentation of their respective topics, and some chapters also deal with one or both of Tinbergen’s other questions. The contributions to this volume are organized into four broad sections. Note, however, that several chapters would also fit comfortably under a different header, as indicated by numerous cross-references among chapters. Communication and cognition continue to be central topics in the study of animal behavior. In chapter 1, Martin Schaefer reviews evolutionary and functional aspects of visual communication. He emphasizes the fact that visual signals not only play important roles in several functional domains of animals, but also in the communication between plants and animals. Using examples from both areas, he discusses models of signal design and evolution, concluding that environmental and other environmental factors need to be considered explicitly for a more comprehensive understanding of communication systems.
Claudia Fichtel and Marta Manser deal with vocal communication in chapter 2. They focus on communication beyond the traditional sender-receiver paradigm and argue forcefully that bystanders also perceive vocal signals exchanged among members of social groups. This point is underscored by their review of empirical studies on audience effects and eavesdropping. Furthermore, group coordination provides a particular context, where individuals have to address several or all members of their social unit simultaneously, and where the traditional dyadic communication model fails. This review should, therefore, inspire much exciting new research on communication from a network perspective.
In chapter 3, Dustin Penn and Joachim Frommen address kin recognition as a functionally important aspect of social and sexual behavior. Following a much-needed conceptual clarification of the main concepts, they focus on the various mechanisms and signals involved in the recognition of kin. They also discuss central theoretical aspects in the evolution of kin recognition mechanisms as well as their genetic underpinnings and consequences. Their contribution concludes with a forward-looking perspective, identifying the main problems and areas of kin recognition research requiring further work. In chapter 4, Mario Pahl, J├╝rgen Tautz and Shaowu Zhang use the honeybee as a model system to illustrate the fascinating sensory and cognitive abilities of animals with small nervous systems. They introduce the honeybee’s sensory world and summarises experimental work on their various cognitive abilities, including categorization, rule learning, and context-dependent learning. These sometimes stunning abilities provide instructive examples of how domain-specific cognitive faculties are linked to the specific ecological and social challenges these social insects face.
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