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Behavioral Ecology

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Teacher/Instructor Patrick Roisen
Patrick Roisen

M.Ed., Stanford University
Winner of multiple teaching awards

Patrick has been teaching AP Biology for 14 years and is the winner of multiple teaching awards.

Behavioral ecology is the study of ecological and evolutionary causes of behavior in organisms. Behavior is influenced by genetics and the environment and should increase the reproductive fitness of a species. Common behaviors studied including things like learning, communication, foraging, reproductive strategies and social behaviors.

Behavioral Ecology is the study of the ecological and evolutionary reasons for animal behavior. Now behavior can be influenced by a number of different things primarily be genetics in the environment and our Interaction with between those two.

Now when you are looking at what causes a particular behavior there is many different levels of explanation, scientist will often talk about the ultimate causation or proximate causation which are big words that basically mean, ultimate causation is why is that good for the species for example why is it good that mothers take care of babies, well that way in form of long term view point the ultimate reason for taking care of babies is so that your DNA gets spread to the next generation and so and so on. And people who don't take care of their babies their genes don't get passed on to the next generation and so they tend to be slowly riddled away from the population so that gives you the ultimate reason why do people like to take care of babies. But the proximate causation would be what is it that's in your brain that when you see a particular facial structure you go baby what is exactly causing you to just sit there and get all gugu gaga over the baby.

Now behaviors in general should increase what's called reproductive fitness, reproductive fitness is not your strength or whatever it's your fitness to pass on your genes to the next generation so anything that you do any behavior that you do should be increasing the chance of your genes getting onto the next generation and this explains why in some animals only one or two males for example in some packs of wilds dogs only one of the males will actually be the one whose mating with all the females but they maybe other males involved helping this why would they do that very often they wind up being brothers of the mating alpha male who is therefore sharing a lot of their genes and so by helping that their older brother or their dominant brother to take care of his offspring their nieces and nephews they are helping their own DNA be passed on to the next generation so that's how ecologist would explain it and as a way of increasing reproductive fitness.

Some other forms of behavior that are starting by behavioral ecologist would be learning, learning is changes in behavior caused by your interaction with the environment and there is many different very interesting behaviors that are seen imprinting is one behavior that's seen where for example some birds are when they are first born there is this one kind of bird where the first moving object in it's environment they basically go ding that's mummy. I remember reading along time ago about some scientist student experiment where bird hatches out an egg and it arrange this rock to start rocking and because the rock was moving the bird said mummy and imprinted on that rock.

Conditioning is these learn behaviors and there is two different kinds of learn behaviors in terms of conditioning there's open and classical conditioning, this are things where you may have heard of pavlov dogs that's where the scientist would ring a bell every time he brought out some meat for the dogs to eat and he got them so that whenever he rung the bell they would start to drool automatically cause, what do dogs do when they see meat. So by going ding right before the steak came out they go ding... steak and they didn't even bother thinking through so they had been conditioned to drool on command.
Now for animals to migrate they need to be able to orient themselves that's to figure out what direction is North and South and a lot of times that's just basically a genetic behavior where they can automatically do so, but navigation is using other clues besides simply knowing that direction is North to figure out where you need to go, they've done experiments where they've taken birds from their original normal starting position when they do the migration and the order experience birds were able to properly migrate while those who were younger who had not done that migration before wind up in that completely wrong country.
Now a lot of times there is lots of different ways for animals to communicate in those various forms whether it's tactal, by touching or chemical by releasing farmonts all this different forms of communication get started by behavioral ecologist.
Foraging behaviors how do you find food is another area that scientist are really interested in learning how for example animals figure out where food is and how to forage to it is actually being studied so that people can learn how to organize the internet and send data through the internet more efficiently.
There is also to reproductive strategy that behavioral ecologist will study whether in a particular species are they monogamous i.e. male and female pair up and they never mate with anybody else or polygamous where there is lots of different mating going on between lots of different individuals.
And then there's all sorts of social behaviors that get studied whether it's the social behavior of ant colony or the social behaviors of you and I and the Jersey Shore.