The Behavior of Animals: Mechanisms, Function and Evolution

By Digweed, Shannon M.; Rendall, Drew | Canadian Psychology, February 2006 | Go to article overview

The Behavior of Animals: Mechanisms, Function and Evolution


Digweed, Shannon M., Rendall, Drew, Canadian Psychology


JOHAN J. BOLHUIS and LUC-ALAIN GIRALDEAU The Behavior of Animals: Mechanisms, Function and Evolution Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005, 536 pages (ISBN 0-631-23125-0, US$69.95 Paperback)

Interest in the behaviour of animals dates at least to the ancient Greeks (and probably long before), for humans have long appreciated the potential insights to be gleaned about their own habits from those of animals. Until relatively recently, however, the scientific study of animal behaviour was comparatively limited in scope. Until Darwin, and for some time after, research on animal behaviour was conducted primarily by amateur naturalists and seldom explicitly and thoughtfully linked to human behaviour and psychology, the exception being the rigorous studies of animal learning that began toward the end of the 19th century and continued throughout the 20th, which was, by and large, where the field of comparative psychology started and finished. All of that changed in the middle 20th-century with the landmark works of ethologists Nikko Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, and Karl von Frisch, who shared a Nobel Prize for their innovative formal research programs on, and considerable insights into, the naturalistic behaviour of animals. The scientific study of animal behaviour grew precipitously after that, and today encompasses field and laboratory studies of every major animal group and the truly dizzying array of behavioural phenomena that they manifest, all with a dual focus on better understanding the natural diversity of animal behaviour and on using it to better illuminate our own.

The Behavior of Animals: Mechanisms, Function and Evolution is a new textbook by Johan Bolhuis and LucAlain Giraldeau aimed at covering this increasingly dynamic and broad field. Given the vastness of the phenomena now to be covered, a compelling theoretical framework is absolutely essential if a comprehensive understanding of animal behaviour is to emerge. Fortunately, Tinbergen himself provided just such a framework for organizing research on animal behaviour, and Bolhuis and Giraldeau wisely follow it in their organization of the material in this text. Thus, a short preface rehearsing the history of animal behaviour research by Robert Hinde (one of Tinbergen's students who himself became one of the foremost contemporary ethologists) is followed by 16 chapters by 23 authors. The chapters are organized into three major sections, two of which flow directly from Tinbergen's four "whys" of behaviour.

The first section is concerned with the first two of Tinbergen's four questions, namely, what are the immediate proximate and longer developmental causes of behaviour? This section includes chapters on perception, motivation, biological rhythms, learning and memory, and cognition. All are well written and comprehensive. David Sherry's chapter provides an especially nice balance of current cognitive theory and basic empirical research by partitioning brain effects on behaviour into three main processes: obtaining information, manipulating that information, and directing movement and behaviour in response. To illustrate these processes, Sherry uses clear and compelling behavioural examples, such as the well-researched auditory processes that barn owls use to detect and capture rodent prey. Similarly, the animal cognition chapter by Nathan Emery and Nicola Clayton offers a concise account of the mechanistic basis of spatial memory and social relationships that are central to challenges in the lives of so many species.

The second section concentrates on Tinbergen's second set of questions: What is the ultimate adaptive function of a behaviour, and how did it evolve in the history of the species? These questions are explored in several chapters with different themes, including communication, sociality, mating systems, mate choice, polyandry, sperm competition, and sexual conflict. …

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