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Anthropomorphism: Tendency to interpret animal behaviors in human terms:
● Proximate explanations “How”: Mechanistic explanation
○How is this behaviour triggered?
○How does this behaviour happen?
○ Example: How do starlings flock together?
■ Separation: Avoid crowding neighbours
■ Alignment: Steer towards average heading of neighbors (same
direction as others)
■ Cohesion: Move towards average position of neighbors (aim for the
● Ultimate explanation “Why”: Evolutionary explanation
○Why has this behaviour evolved
○ Example: Why do starlings flock?
■Flocks are more efficient at feeding (finding food sources) and
avoiding predators. An individual in a flock has a better theoretical
chance of surviving than a solitary individual
Behaviour: Response to a stimulus mediated by nervous system
●Complex behaviour can be triggered by innate (“hard wired”) stimuli
○External (Example: Sight, touch, smell, sound)
○Internal (Example: Hunger, fatigue, pain)
● Neural pathway: Processed in ganglia or brain
● Response: Example: Action of muscles or glands
○Fixed (innate) or plastic (changeable)
○ Innate behaviour: Occurs completely first time performed
■Strong genetic component
■Some species have an innate behaviour that is time-limited (few hours
or days) after birth that bonds parents and offspring (birds especially).
If parents missing in critical period, other species or even moving
objects may become bonded (Genes and environment both important)
○ Learned behaviour: Develops and changes in response to environmental
■Strong experiential and environmental component
■Social & experiential learning
● Example: A behavioural ecology group at Oxford is studying
tool use in New Caledonia (NC) crows.
○These crows use tools to retrieve food in hidden
○NC crows develop and improve tool use through
experience (experiential learning) and when taught
(social learning = problem solving without being taught)
○NC crows have an inherited predisposition for tool use
Fixed Action Pattern (FAP):
● Niko Tinbergen studied fixed action patterns in male sticklebacks in the 1930s