Keynote & Plenaries

Keynote & Plenaries

Georgia Mason
University of Guelph

Keynote Lecture

Tanya Berger-Wolf
University of Illinois at Chicago

Plenary Lecture

Computation has fundamentally changed the way we study nature. New data collection technology, such as GPS, high definition cameras, UAVs, genotyping, and crowdsourcing, are generating data about wild populations that are orders of magnitude richer than any previously collected. Unfortunately, in this domain as in many others, our ability to analyze data lags substantially behind our ability to collect it. In this talk I will show how computational approaches can be part of every stage of the scientific process of understanding animal sociality, from intelligent data collection (crowdsourcing photographs and identifying individual animals from photographs by stripes and spots) to hypothesis formulation (by designing a novel computational framework for analysis of dynamic social networks), and provide scientific insight into collective behavior of zebras, baboons, and other social animals. 

Hans Hofmann
University of Texas at Austin

Complex Homology and the Neuromolecular Evolution of Social Behavior

The social behavior of human and non-human animals can vary tremendously, depending on intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and can be remarkably diverse even among closely related species. Embracing this diversity, behavioral ecologists have provided a fundamental understanding of the adaptive value of many kinds of social behavior and how, and in which ecological contexts, such social systems have evolved. Taking advantage of laboratory animals bred to lack variation, behavioral neuroscientists, in turn, have gained a fairly detailed understanding of how the brain processes and stores socially relevant information, how it generates context-appropriate behavior, and (to a lesser extent) how behavior and its neural substrates develop during ontogeny. Since the beginning of the new millennium, investigators have increasingly become interested in integrating these seemingly disparate disciplines with the goal of (a) unraveling the causes and consequences of individual and population variation in brain and behavior in diverse species; and (b) reconstructing the evolution of the neuromolecular mechanisms that regulate and generate complex behavior. These studies show remarkably conserved roles of hormones (specifically sex steroids and neuropeptides) and neuromodulators (such as biogenic amines) in the regulation of social behavior, even in cases of convergently evolved social systems and across distantly related taxa. Extending these findings on a genomic scale, recent studies provide support for the intriguing hypothesis that coordinated activity of conserved sets of genes underlies independent evolutionary transitions to social behavioral phenotypes. Similarly, neural circuits such as the vertebrate Social Decision-Making Network are highly conserved, suggesting that much of the behavioral diversity we observe in nature reflects variations of an ancient theme. Maybe none of this should come as a surprise: the most recent common ancestor of all animals already had to meet challenges imposed by fluctuating internal states and external environments (finding mates, defending resources, avoiding predators, etc.). The mechanisms used by these ancestral organisms to maintain homeostasis likely served as the building blocks for the evolution of more derived behavioral responses. Here, we will introduce a novel conceptual framework – as well as present results from experimental and comparative studies – that integrate across levels of organization and spatial and temporal scales to untangle the origins and evolution of complex behavioral and neuromolecular phenotypes.

Amy Toth
Iowa State University

Plenary Lecture

Neeltje Boogert
University of Exeter

Plenary Lecture

Gail Patricelli
University of California, Davis

Fellow's Lecture: Robots, Telemetry, & the Sex Lives of Wild Birds: Using technology to study courtship and conservation

Males in many species must convince females to mate by producing elaborate courtship displays tuned to female preferences, like the song of a cricket or the train of a peacock. But courtship in many species is more like a negotiation than an advertisement, thus in addition to elaborate signals, success in courtship may require tactical skills. These skills may include the ability to choose a flattering display site, respond appropriately to female courtship signals, and adjust display investment in response to the marketplace of other males and females. My lab has been investigating courtship negotiations in greater sage-grouse, which mate in an open marketplace of competing males and choosing females (the lek). I will discuss experiments using robotic females to investigate courtship interactions between the sexes. I will also discuss ongoing research investigating how off-lek foraging behaviors affect on-lek displays, and how this basic science has informed my lab's research into human impacts on lekking activities.

John P. Swaddle
College of William & Mary

President's Lecture

As a discipline, animal behavior, sits at the interface of the organism and its biotic and abiotic environment. Behavioral flexibility and selection on behaviors often mediate how animals (and other organisms) persist in environments and respond to environmental change. Hence, animal behavior should be a discipline that takes the lead in tackling some of society’s largest biologically-relevant problems (e.g. health, food security, conservation, sustainable development). I will describe several case studies where we have used a fundamental understanding of animal behavior to help solve persistent global problems, all related to avian behavior and ecology. For example, I will describe how an understanding of birds’ perception of risk and threat has led to us develop a new technology that has proven useful in reducing damages by birds to crops, without habituation. This technology will also improve aviation safety by reducing bird-aircraft strikes. Further, I will describe how birds’ perception of environmental cues in flight is leading us to develop better technology for reducing birds’ risk of collision with large human-made structures, such as communication towers, wind turbines, and high-rise buildings. Broadly, I will propose that many global challenges in health, food security, conservation, and sustainable development relate to animal behavior. The integrative approaches that many behaviorists adopt and the wealth of fundamental knowledge within our community could be harnessed to produce more reliable solutions.