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Behavioral Ecology & Animal Behavior

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Behavioral ecology is the study of animal behavior development on an evolutionary level due to ecological pressure. Study the definition of behavioral ecology, social and territorial behavior, mating, and child raising. Updated: 11/09/2021

Behavioral Ecology

Wouldn't it be great if we could just blame everything we do on genetics? Oh sorry, I can't stop tapping my fingers, it's in my DNA. Oh sorry, my sweet tooth is genetic. Oh sorry, I evolved to be annoyed by stupid people. I mean, the possible excuses are endless.

While we can't blame everything we do on genetics, there actually is something to this idea. In every species there are certain instinctual behaviors, behaviors that are not learned as much as inherited, and, often, these behaviors are adapted because of external factors. The study of the evolutionary development of animal behavior as a result of ecological pressure is called behavioral ecology. Basically, this field of research examines the ways that external factors can influence species to evolve certain behavioral traits. Here, why don't we take a little research safari and check out how certain species get to blame their behaviors on evolution.

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  • 0:01 Behavior Ecology
  • 1:10 Social Behaviors
  • 1:57 Territorial Behavior
  • 3:00 Mating
  • 4:02 Child Raising
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Social Behaviors

Now, as we head off on our safari, let me make some important distinctions about evolved behaviors. In some species, we see behaviors that are evolved to benefit individuals - the way that a female mantis will eat the male after reproducing. However, most behaviors that are evolved in response to ecological pressure are social, which means that they benefit the individual through the process of creating social groups. In behavioral ecology, we call a series of interacting social behaviors that develops stable social relations an evolutionarily stable strategy, or ESS. Why do penguins instinctively huddle during the winter? This social strategy gives them the best chance at survival in their environment.

Territorial Behavior

Now, there are dozens of kinds of behaviors evolved in response to ecological pressure, so we're only going to get to see a few common examples on this safari. Let's start here. See these lions? We are in their territory, which makes them want to chase us off if we are seen as a threat to their resources. Territorial behavior is a great example of a behavioral trait evolved in response to ecological pressure. Say that these lions don't protect their territory; other predators could invade and eat up all of the lions' food supply. So, territorial behavior exists because an ecosystem has a limited amount of resources. Were there unlimited gazelle in this region, the territorial behaviors would cease to exist, but as it is, these lions are going to defend their territory so that their food supply is not depleted. Do lions know why they do this? It's not like they are counting gazelle and budgeting potential food. This is an instinct, an evolved and automatic behavior.

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