Keynote & Plenaries

Keynote & Plenaries

Frans de Waal
Emory University 
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals are?

Frans de Waal is an eminent primatologist and ethologist who is best known for his work on social behavior in chimpanzees and bonobos. de Waal’s early research concerned competition, conflict resolution, and deception, inspiring advances in the field of primate cognition and laying the groundwork for studies of cooperation and fairness. His more recent work has focused on the evolution of empathy and morality, designating bonobos as ‘the make love – not war’ primate.  He has also applied his research on primate morality to human societies with an exploration of the role of religion in shaping human interactions. de Waal has authored or edited 14 books, including Chimpanzee Politics, The Age of Empathy, and The Bonobo and the Atheist.  His latest book (Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?) will be published by W.W. Norton in April, 2016. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and is the C.H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University.

Vanessa Ezenwa
University of Georgia
Parasites and Behavior: Old Ideas and New Insights

Parasites can have profound effects on animal behavior. For example, parasites are considered to be a major cost of group-living that imposes constraints on social group size. Larger group sizes favor the transmission of parasites for a variety of reasons, and associations between group size and more intense parasite infections have been documented in many species. However, recent insights from eco-immunology, microbial ecology, and physiological ecology suggest interesting ways in which the parasite-related costs of group-living might be offset under certain circumstances. In this talk, I describe two mechanisms that potentially counterbalance the parasite costs of group-living, and consider the implications for our understanding of the connections between social behavior and parasitism.

Lauren O'Connell
Harvard University

Parenthood on the Brain: Neural Mechanisms of Piggyback Rides and Nursing Behavior in Poison Frogs

Specialized parental care strategies have evolved independently many times in response to different selective pressures and ecological constraints, but the mechanistic basis of these behavioral phenotypes remains unclear, especially in males. Moreover, separating the mechanisms of pair bonding from those underlying preparations for the onset of parental behavior is difficult, given that pair bonding is coupled with paternal care in most animals. The best strategy for identifying mechanisms governing parental care is to perform a comparative analysis across closely related species that vary in parental care strategies in a manner that is independent of pair-bonding. Poison frogs are the best model clade for this research, as they show diverse parental care strategies amongst closely related species. Using the latest tools in genomics and neuroscience within a comparative context, we have identified core neural mechanisms that promote parental care and sheds light on how behavioral and neural plasticity influence the evolution of diverse reproductive strategies.




Juan Carlos Reboreda
University of Buenos Aires
Adaptations to Brood Parasitism in Host Generalist and Host Specialist Cowbirds

Obligate avian brood parasites, like cuckoos and cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other species (hosts), which provide all parental care to the parasitic offspring. The exploitation of parental care by brood parasites typically entails fitness costs to host parents and these interactions may result in a coevolutionary arms race in which hosts evolve defenses against parasitism that, in turn, select for counterdefenses in parasite populations. In this talk I will describe some adaptations to brood parasitism in the Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis), an extreme host generalist that uses more than 250 species, and the Screaming Cowbird (M. rufoaxillaris), a host specialist that parasitizes almost exclusively one species. I will analyze the prospecting of host nests by female Shiny Cowbirds and discuss their memory abilities for remembering the precise location and nesting stage of multiple host nests within the home range. I will also describe behavioral flexibility of egg pecking behavior by Shiny Cowbird females and begging behavior by Shiny Cowbird chicks depending on brood conditions. Finally, I will show evidence of visual and vocal mimicry between the fledglings of Screaming Cowbirds and those of its primary host.




Emília Martins
Indiana University- Bloomington
Context matters: how history, physiology, social partners, and habitats shape animal behavior

Animal behavior is plastic. We have long known that animals often behave differently depending on their personal histories and immediate context. We are now beginning to appreciate how much these factors impact behavior, and the importance of that flexibility in terms of whether and how animals are able to withstand the challenges of climate change, pollution, and urbanization. In this talk, I share stories from our research about how contexts shape animal behavior, highlighting the importance of long-term evolutionary and geographic contexts, the context of an individual’s physiology and other behavior (including multimodal signals), social groups, and personal history. I will then discuss the implications of this behavioral plasticity on future behavior and propose ways in which we can use our knowledge to inform practical decisions.




Doug Chivers
University of Saskatchewan
Cognitive ecology of fear in a changing world

Due to the unforgiving nature of predation, prey animals have evolved an astonishing array of antipredator responses that act to thwart would-be predators. However, various anthropogenic stressors compromise prey risk assessment systems. My talk will explore how ocean acidification, rising sea temperatures, and coral degradation alters prey behaviour and ultimately predation dynamics in coral reef systems.