Adaptiveness of Behavior

Proximant and Ultimate Causation

  1. Proximate causation involves the more immediate bases for behavior and describes how the animal comes to act in a certain way.


  2. Ultimate causation involves the evolutionary and adaptive bases for behavior and declares why the animal behaves in a certain way.


Behavioral Ecology

Behavioral ecology is the study of how the environment affects behavior.

Habitat Selection
Wecker's experiments showed both genetic (ultimate) and learned (proximate) elements in habitat selection of mice.


Foraging Behavior
The question of the efficiency of foraging behavior is, how does the animal maximize gain relative to expenditure? In studies of the great tit, it was found that suboptimal sites will be tested as alternate sources of food. Aquatic animals chose food items based on the size and ease of handling of the prey.


Biological Clocks

Both plants and animals respond to a day-night cycle, the mechanisms of which are not entirely known.


The adaptiveness of Rhythms
  1. Organisms must adapt to annual, lunar, and daily (circadian) cycles (among others).
  2. Each time has its own characteristics, of which the animal must take advantage.



Communication is an action by one animal that influences another animal.


Communication may be visual, auditory, or chemical in nature. The form of communication used is determined by the environment and the sensory capabilities of the organism.

Visual messages may be sent by color, posture, shape, movement, or timing. Sound messages can be sent by cadence, pitch, or tone. Chemical messages can be sent by molecules called pheromones.


Communication and Recognition

Recognition involves identification of groups or individuals


Species Recognition
Species recognition enables one animal to know if another animal is of the same species. This prevents an organism from wasting its time and energy attempting to mate with the wrong species.

Individual Recognition

Mated couples and their young are able to identify one another in crowded conditions. Example: many birds and mammals live in very close chaotic conditions during the breeding season. Individual recognition can help reduce conflict by allowing the formation of dominance heirarchies. Once an individual learning its position in the "pecking order" it can save energy by avoiding aggressive behavior.

Kin Recognition

In many species individuals can recognize their immediate relatives. This is adaptive for a number of reasons.
  1. It enables an individual to favor a relative over another individual with fewer genes in common.
  2. It helps reduce competition for limited resources between closely related individuals.

Topics Below Under Construction

Agonistic Behavior

Agonistic Behavior is any behavior that helps stop or reduce conflict including:

  • aggression
  • threats and
  • submission

Intraspecific Fighting -- a form of aggression

Social Behavior

Cooperation (occurs both within species and between species)


Mutualism (both benefit)

Commensalism (one benefits the other is unharmed)

Parasitism (not considered social behavior)


Altruism may be defined as any act by one individual that benefits another, where the behavior exposes the benefactor to danger or even injury.



Sociobiology examines the benefits organisms enjoy by working together as a group. Some examples are:

  1. Group foraging
  2. Group protection
  3. The "selfish herd" effect
  4. Increased vigilance (warning against danger)
  5. Reproductive coordination
  6. Mutual advantage to parent and offspring