Behavioral ecology of African mammals, Biology tutorial


Behavioral ecology, or ethoecology, is study of ecological and evolutionary basis for animal behavior, and roles of behavior in allowing animal to adapt to environment (both intrinsic and extrinsic). Behavioral ecology emerged from ethology after Niko Tinbergen outlined four causes of behavior. If organism has the trait that gives them with selective advantage in new environment natural selection will possible favor it. Adaptive importance thus refers to advantageous qualities, in terms of increased survival and reproduction, a trait conveys.

The behavior of flight has evolved many times in reptiles (Pterosaur), birds, several insects and mammals (bats) because of its adaptive importance-for several species, flight has potential to increase animal's ability to escape from predators and move speedily between habitat areas, among other things, thus increasing organism's chances of survival and reproduction. At every stage slight improvements mean higher energy acquisition, lower energy expenditure or increased mating opportunities causing genes which convey such features to increase within population. If these organisms didn't have needed variation for natural selection to act on either because of phylogenetic or genetic constraints, these behaviors would not be able to evolve. Though, it is not adequate to apply these explanations where they seem convenient. Hypothesis of evolution of insect flight for instance has been tested through wing manipulation experiments. Empirical observations that stick to conditions prosed also give evidence.

Proximate causation:

Proximate causation is divided in two factors that are ontogenetic and mechanistic. Ontogenetic factors are complete sum of experience throughout lifetime of individual from embryo to death. Therefore, factors comprised are learning genetic factors giving rise to behavior in individuals. Mechanistic factors, as name implies, are procedures of body which give rise to behavior like effects of hormones on behavior and neuronal basis of behavior.

Optimization theory:

Behavioral ecology, along with other areas of evolutionary biology, has included number of techniques that have been borrowed from optimization theory. Optimization is the concept which stipulates strategies which offer highest return to animal given all different factors and constraints facing animal. One of the simplest ways to arrive at optimal solution is to do cost/benefit analysis. By considering advantages of the behavior and costs of the behavior, it can be seen that if costs outweigh advantages then behavior will not evolve and vice versa.

Digestive efficiency of lizard also increases with increases in body temperature. Lizards increase their body temperature by basking in sun. Though, time spent basking decreases amount of time available for foraging. Basking also increases risk of being discovered by the predator. Hence, optimal basking time is outcome of time essentially to adequately warm itself to perform its activities like foraging.

Differential reproductive success:

Eventually, behavior is subject to natural selection simply as with any other feature. Hence animals which use optimal behavioral strategies particular to their environment will usually leave greater numbers of offspring than suboptimal conspecifics. Animals which leave greater number of offspring than others of their own species are said to have greater fitness.

Evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS):

Value of social behavior depends in part on social behavior of the animal's neighbors. For instance, more likely a rival male is to back down from threat, more value male gets out of making threat. More likely, however, that a rival will attack if threatened, the less useful it is to threaten other males. Evolutionary game theory states that only strategies that, when common in population, can't be invaded by any alternative (mutant) strategy will be ESSs, and therefore maintained in population. At equilibrium every player must play the best strategic response to each other. When game is two players and symmetric each player must play strategy that is the best response to itself. Thus, ESS is considered to be evolutionary end point subsequent to the interactions.

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