Behavioral ecology

Some examples of behavioural ecology
Penguins huddling in the Antarctic
Geese flying in aerodynamic V-formation
The bee waggle dance communicating information
An African elephant crossing a river
A frog with inflated vocal sac
A stotting gazelle
A male moor frog colored blue

Behavioral ecology, also spelled behavioural ecology, is the study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures. Behavioral ecology emerged from ethology after Niko Tinbergen outlined four questions to address when studying animal behaviors: What are the proximate causes, ontogeny, survival value, and phylogeny of a behavior?

If an organism has a trait that provides a selective advantage (i.e., has adaptive significance) in its environment, then natural selection favors it. Adaptive significance refers to the expression of a trait that affects fitness, measured by an individual's reproductive success. Adaptive traits are those that produce more copies of the individual's genes in future generations. Maladaptive traits are those that leave fewer. For example, if a bird that can call more loudly attracts more mates, then a loud call is an adaptive trait for that species because a louder bird mates more frequently than less loud birds—thus sending more loud-calling genes into future generations. Conversely, loud calling birds may attract the attention of predators more often, decreasing their presence in the gene pool.

Individuals are always in competition with others for limited resources, including food, territories, and mates. Conflict occurs between predators and prey, between rivals for mates, between siblings, mates, and even between parents and offspring.

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