Approaches to Studying Animal Behavior

If we attempt to distinguish among the fields of ethology, animal behavior, comparative psychology, and behavioral ecology this might be the result:

Ethology-work focused on Tinbergen's four primary issues (causation, ontogeny, evolution, survival value); studies tend to be more oriented to observation and natural history. Major scientific journals in this field are Ethology and Behaviour.

Animal behavior-the study of mechanisms which underly the behavior of animals, particularly as the behavior relates to function in a field setting. The major scientific journal emphasizing this type of work is Animal Behaviour.

Comparative psychology-the use of non-human animals as models for the understanding of behavior that is relevant to human behavior. Classically, comparative psychology focuses on issues like learning, behavioral endocrinology, and behavioral neurobiology. The most commonly used model systems are mice, rats, pigeons, and various species of monkey. Work along these lines is found in the scientific journals Journal of Comparative Psychology and Animal Learning and Behavior.

Behavioral ecology-the integration of behavioral mechanisms with the animal's environment. Behavioral ecology, as a field that is recognizably distinct from ethology or animal behavior, has come into prominence since roughly 1980. Foraging behavior, mating systems, and territoriality are examples of topics that have been major concerns in behavioral ecology. Important journals are Behavioral Ecology and Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

These four fields overlap substantially, and it is probably counterproductive to attempt to draw distinct lines between them.

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copyright ©2003 Michael D. Breed, all rights reserved