Vol. 64, No. 2 | Summer 2018

Meeting Plenary Sessions and Symposia

Keynote & Plenaries

Georgia Mason 
University of Guelph

Keynote Lecture: A palace or a prison? Behavioural differences between species can predict responses to life in captivity

Animal welfare science seeks to assess and improve the well-being of the 100s of billions of animals kept or killed by humans. Like conservation biology, its research questions range from applied (e.g. what are the most humane ways to kill chickens?) to fundamental (e.g. which species and life stages are sentient?). Research approaches may involve physiology or immunology, but ethology plays a crucial role. For one, behavioral responses (e.g. alarm calls; stereotypic behavior) can be useful welfare indicators: conspicuous, easy to measure, and valid (since intrinsically linked to affective states). In addition, restricting natural behavior is a major source of welfare problems. My talk will review examples of the latter in zoo animals, and in parrots kept as pets, to show how evolved behavioural differences between species can predispose them to good or poor welfare in captivity.  I will present comparative evidence that constraining natural foraging or ranging behaviour can compromise well-being in zoos and aviaries; and draw parallels between coping with ‘HIREC’ (human-induced rapid environmental changes, for example urbanization or habitat fragmentation) and coping with captivity. 

Tanya Berger-Wolf
University of Illinois at Chicago

Computational Behavioral Ecology

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. 


Amy Toth
Iowa State University

Building the Superorganism: Integrative insights into the evolution and regulation of insect sociality

The evolution of superorganisms, such as eusocial insect colonies composed of highly cooperative individuals working together as a single whole, has been described as a major transition in the history of life.  The question of “why?” has this extreme form of cooperation evolved has been of intense interest to biologists since Darwin. Now, armed with new tools and technologies, animal behaviorists have turned to ask “how” has this revolutionary change in life history evolved?  Wasps and bees are excellent comparative study systems for addressing such questions, because they are extremely diverse taxonomically and socially; with multiple independent origins of sociality.  Using an integrative approach that blends behavior, physiology, and genomics, our studies on bees and wasps are providing new insights into the mechanisms and evolution of cooperative societies.  I will discuss some of these, including: 1) elements of maternal behavior and reproductive physiology becoming “retooled” by evolution for new social purposes, 2) the role of resource limitation and nutritional inequalities in the regulation of cooperative behaviors, 3) incremental changes in social state based on evolutionary shifts in gene regulation based on existing phenotypic plasticity, 4) roles for both deeply conserved “toolkits” as well as newly evolved genes in the evolution of social traits.  These studies contribute to a developing picture of the molecular, organismal, and ecological processes that have enabled the evolution of biological complexity.


Neeltje Boogert
University of Exeter

Effects Of Early-life Stress On Learning Strategies

The use of information provided by others is a common shortcut adopted to inform decision-making. However, instead of indiscriminately copying others, animals are often selective in what, when and whom they copy. How do they decide which learning strategy to use? My research suggests that stress hormone exposure early in life may be important. While developmental stress is often thought to hamper cognitive performance, I will argue that ecologically relevant levels of early-life stress may instead determine how individuals balance the use of different sources of information. Furthermore, early-life stress can also change individuals’ interactions with group members, which in turn can affect access to information sources and subsequent information use. I will argue that an information use approach may lead to different insights concerning individuals’ cognitive performance than one in which individuals are ranked based on their perceived 'intelligence'.


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

Promoting animal behavior to tackle global challenges

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. 



Animal Behaviour On An Urbanized Planet

Organizer: James Chadwick Johnson

As more than ½ of the human population now lives in rapidly expanding urban centres, urbanization is a particularly important example of ‘human-induced rapid environmental change’ (HIREC). The impact that urbanization has on the biota and ecosystems around us has unknown consequences for the long-term sustainability of habitats (both human and non-human). We will present a symposium, well-balanced across taxa, that addresses several emerging themes in the behavioural ecology of urban organisms. In particular, we aim to highlight theory and data that address the intuitive idea that behavioural plasticity in these rapidly changing environments is key for the success of urban organisms. Second, we ask participants to emphasize the benefits of coupling mechanistic and functional approaches in studies of urban behaviour. Third, we address a relatively new theme in urban ecology by examining the implications of spatial/environmental heterogeneity within and across cities. Indeed, this latter issue has the potential to help us understand (predict) how HIREC can affect behaviour (and potentially biodiversity) differently across the landscape. We bring a vibrant and diverse group of symposium participants (e.g. researchers from varied career stages and histories of ABS participation) and a pair of seasoned urban behavior researchers as organizers that will shepherd the discussion to yield the highest impact.

Speakers: James Johnson, Megan Kobiela, Kevin McGraw, Mark McDonnell, Oriol LaPiedra, Julie Young, Seth Magle

Cross-taxa Perspectives On Behavior And Developmental Origins

Organizers: Stacy Rosenbaum, University of Notre Dame and Elizabeth Archie, University of Notre Dame

The developmental origins of later life outcomes, including health, fitness, and life history variables, are still murky in most biological systems. Although experimental work has shed some light on the physiological and (epi)genetic mechanisms regulating the connection between early (or even pre-conception) experiences and later outcomes, behavior is a relatively underexplored frontier in the developmental origins literature. This session will curate papers that integrate developmental origins questions and behavioral data in a range of animal species. Understanding how behavior mediates relationships between early experience and later outcomes is crucial for testing, shaping, and refining foundational theoretical frameworks to understand early life effects. For example, behavior contains important information about how and why organisms make the life history tradeoffs they do, helping us distinguish amongst competing models of the connection between experiences and outcomes that may be removed by months, years, or even decades.

A complete understanding of developmental origins requires both proximate and ultimate levels of explanation. Research on captive populations, which provides critical experimental control and the ability to test causality, needs to be paired with work on wild populations, where organisms are subject to the context and selective pressures that shaped their evolutionary history. Therefore, this session will contain a mix of participants who study wild and captive populations. It will include papers that focus on animals whose life histories span the slow-to-fast continuum, to highlight where (and where not) lessons learned from one end of the spectrum can be applied to the other.

Speakers: Ben Dantzer, Christopher Kuzawa, Amanda Lea, Jill Mateo, Ken Norris, Denis Reale, Stacy Rosenbaum, Oliver Schuelke, Elinor Sullivan

Proximate Mechanisms Of Complex Sociality

Organizer: Emily H. DuVal and Blake C. Jones

Complex social behaviors are an essential part of the lives of many animals, and are shaped by needs for reproduction, foraging, and survival. These social behaviors range from aggressive interactions to cooperation to parental care, and vary considerably both within and among species. The integration of molecular genetics, neurobiology, and physiology with animal behavior have garnered new insights into the proximate causes and consequences of complex sociality. Understanding the proximate mechanisms of social behaviors will help us better understand the adaptive function of these behaviors and ultimately the evolution of sociality. This symposium showcases recent advances in our understanding of the proximate regulation and mediation of animal sociality from the perspective of a variety of fields of study, and to highlight areas of developing research.

Speakers: Bruce Cushing, Alex Jordan, Jenny Tung, Aubrey Kell,y Alex Walton, Blake Jones, Emily DuVal, Rebecca Calisi

Behavioural Plasticity: Integrating Variation Within And Among Individuals And Species

Organizers: Ned Dochtermann, Jennifer Hellmann, Kate Laskowski and Julie Morand-Ferron

Over the past several decades, significant advances have been made in documenting behavioural plasticity across individuals, populations, and species as well as identifying its proximate and ultimate mechanisms. Our symposium aims to highlight recent advances in the study of behavioural plasticity in relation to: the sources and consequences of within-individual variation; transgenerational effects; and the evolution of innovativeness and learning across populations and species. First, we will highlight recent statistical advances in modelling within-individual and genotype plasticity in behaviour, novel insights into the underlying mechanisms of this variation, and its ecological consequences. Second, we will explore how variation in parental experiences (e.g., predation) and parental care induce plasticity in offspring phenotypes. In this regard, we will discuss the relative influence of maternal and paternal effects as well as interactions between genetic variation, early life experiences, and parental experiences. Finally, we will move beyond individuals to discuss how species level variation in behavioural plasticity is crucial to species persistence in a changing environment and reflects aspects of brain function and evolution. We highlight advances in our understanding of the evolution of innovativeness, learning and the brain, stemming from a diversity of approaches including large-scale comparative studies, artificial selection experiments, and the study of intraspecific variation in natural populations. Collectively, we aim to stimulate future research into the causes of variation in behavioural plasticity and its evolutionary significance.

Speakers: Rahia Mashoodh; Abraham Kuijper; Sarah Donelan; Jennifer Hellmann; Alex Kotrschal; Louis Lefebvre; Jean-Nicolas Audet; Daniel Sol; Julie Morand-Ferron; Kate Laskowski; Julia Saltz ; Judy Stamps; Benjamin de Bivort

Embracing The Complexity Of Animal Social Systems Using Multilayer Network Analysis

Organizers: Matthew Silk, David Fisher, and Matthew Hasenjager

Social network analysis has generated substantial insight into how behavioural interactions and social relationships within animal populations shape key evolutionary and ecological processes. Previously, social networks have typically been constructed that consider only a single interaction type or aggregate multiple forms of interaction or association within a single network. In reality, animal sociality is multi-faceted, e.g. animals mate, fight, cooperate and compete with one another, and important feedbacks exist between these different relationships. Moreover, animal networks are dynamic systems embedded within the physical environment and wider ecological community whose structure and properties can shift over time. New analytical tools are needed to disentangle the impacts of such interdependencies on social processes, especially given the ever-increasing availability of high-resolution data on many different interaction types. Multilayer network approaches can account for the interconnected nature of animal socio-ecological systems by enabling multiple networks to be analysed within an integrated framework. For example, multiple behavioural interactions can be combined within a multiplex network, or social and spatial networks can be combined within interconnected networks. Therefore, multilayer networks offer a powerful approach for understanding the complexity of animal sociality, from teasing apart how social relationships develop within groups to establishing how movement networks shape population connectivity. Our symposium will provide an opportunity for collaborations between network scientists working on multilayer approaches, ecologists, and animal behaviour researchers. We will set out how multilayer approaches can contribute to key questions in behavioural ecology and provide a practical introduction to key analytical approaches.

Speakers: Noa Pinter-Wollman; Kelly Finn; Louise Barrett; Sandra Smith-Aguilar; Subhadeep Paul

The when, why and how of new animal conversations

Organizers: E. Dale Broder and Robin Tinghitella

Brief session summary: Signals used in animal communication are often under stabilizing selection ensuring that senders and receivers speak the same language. Individuals that send signals outside of the norm may not be seen or heard, and receivers that do not perceive or appropriately respond to signals could be left out of the conversation. How, then, do novel signals evolve? We know very little about the mechanisms that would favor the maintenance and fixation of a new signal, and next to nothing about the matching changes that must occur in the receiver to produce a coupled response. This symposium will include ultimate musings on how interactions among selective forces may lead to novel signals as well as conversations about mechanistic approaches exploring the genetic and physical processes involved in signal production and reception.

Speakers: Dale Broder, Robin Tinghitella, Gil Rosenthal, Molly Morris, Rafa Rodriguez, Malcolm Rosenthal, Brett Seymore

Presidential SymposiumConstraints On Animal Mating Displays: Linking Production Mechanisms To Signal Function

Organizer: Jeff Podos, ABS Immediate Past-President

A long-standing challenge in behavioral biology has been to explain the evolution of elaborate and conspicuous mating displays. Emerging research programs on this topic are plumbing, in new ways, the physiological and biomechanical bases of display performance, and testing if and how variation therein might influence display function. This work aims to de-emphasize generic measures of signaler quality and condition, and instead favor analyses of specific organismal traits that link directly to display attributes including vigor, skill, and consistency. Speakers in this symposium will discuss their own research on these topics, and consider how research on display mechanisms inform our broader understanding of animal communication and sexual selection.

Speakers: Sue Bertram; Mark Briffa; Marcela Fernandez-Peters; Franz Goller; Rebecca Koch; Lisa Mangiamele
Jeff Podos; Barney Schlinger

Allee Symposium for Best Student Paper

Organizer: Esteban Fernandez-Juricic, ABS Second President-Elect

This symposium features outstanding graduate student research, with an award for the best paper, and is a highlight of ABS meetings. The session honors Dr. Warder Clyde Allee (1885–1955), an animal behavior researcher who was very influential in the development and direction of animal behavior research in the 20th century. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1951 and ranks among the leading twentieth century ecologists, especially for his work in behavioral and animal ecology. In the 2019 ABS Allee Session, students will present their research to ABS members and talk judges.


ABS Newsletter

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Animal Behaviour

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