Vol. 68, No. 1 | Spring 2023

Notes from the ABS Historian

ABS Historian, Sue Margulis

I am honored to serve as the Historian of the Animal Behavior Society. I attended my first ABS meeting as an undergraduate in 1980, and while I certainly haven’t managed to attend every meeting since then (Zuleyma Tang-Martinez holds that record, I think), 2023 will mark my 31st ABS meeting. This Society has been a part of my professional life for decades.

One of the first things I did was review as much historical information as I could to immerse myself in the Society’s past. In virtually every course I teach, I start with history – it’s important to understand where we came from to appreciate where we are, and consider where we are heading. It helps us recognize our progress, as well as the changes we still need to make.

The Animal Behavior Society was formally established in 1964. The Founders of the Society numbered 38 – 35 men, and 3 women. Most records indicate 37 founders (35 men, 2 women) however Elsie Collias, wife of Nicholas Collias, is included amongst the founders, though not independently. All of the Society’s founders were White, all but two were born in the United States, and all spent the majority of their professional lives affiliated with institutions in the United States.

As we near 60 years since our establishment as a Society, it is clear that a lot has changed. The earliest confirmation I found on the number of members of the Society was in the November 1968 newsletter, vol 13 #4: “The Membership Committee reports that there are now more than 1,000 Members and Student Members in the ABS, there having been a dramatic increase over the past year.” As of this writing, the website currently reports a membership of 2000 – a doubling in 55 years.

Delving deeper into the makeup of our membership is more challenging, as this information is never complete; about half of members completed some of the optional demographic information questions. Of those completing the most recent demographic survey, 52% were women – more than half. Considering that less than 8% of the founders were women, that is a huge shift. One need only look at our current presidential track – a four-year sequence from second president-elect to past president—to appreciate this change: all are women. The first woman to serve on the Executive Committee was Nancy Jessop (elected to a 3-year term as Secretary in 1972); the first woman president of the Society was Devra Kleiman, elected in 1981, president in 1983. Interestingly, in 1978, the Executive Committee considered the possibility of banning meetings in states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Although a straw poll suggested that the membership would be in favor of this, further discussion led the Executive Committee to conclude that such an action could be construed as lobbying and this plan was not acted upon (ABS Newsletter, August 1978, volume 23 #3). At present, the ERA has still not been certified, despite ¾ of states ratifying it. But that is another discussion! And we have indeed held meetings in states that have not ratified the ERA.

While we, like many scientific societies, continue to struggle with diversity, we have made great strides here as well. Of the 300+ members who opted to provide data on racial identity in the 2022 member survey, 32% identify as non-white, and 26% report being first generation college students. This sounds hugely impressive, but bear in mind that with close to 2000 members, an estimate of only 15% completed the survey. Thus, actual diversity of the Society could be considerably lower – as low as 5%. I suspect that the true proportion is somewhere in between – perhaps 10%, perhaps 15%. Clearly, we still have a ways to go here, but consider how far we have come?

We no longer view ourselves as a Society whose membership is made up nearly entirely of citizens of the United States; our membership encompasses far more geographic diversity. In fact, 30% of the membership comprises scientists and students from outside the United States, representing 64 countries. Five annual meetings have been held outside of the United States (three in Latin America and two in Canada); the 2022 meeting in Costa Rica is notable for its emphasis on bilingual presentations. To further support “internationalizing” the Society, the Latin American Affairs Committee was established in 1995. Amongst its many initiatives, Latin American Travel Awards have played a big role in enabling Latin American scientists and students to attend the annual conference.

Another major step forward by ABS was the establishment of the Charles H. Turner Award. This award aims to support meeting attendance by and mentoring for undergraduates of under-represented groups. While it was originally supported by NSF funding, thanks to the efforts of Emília Martins, Peggy Hill, and Zuleyma Tang-Martinez, the Society opted to continue to fully fund this program even when NSF funding ended. The Society has been fully funding this program since 2014. Another major step forward was the establishment of a Diversity Officer as a member of the Executive Committee. Chris Shell was elected as the first Diversity Officer in 2022. We have made great progress, but clearly, we still have a long way to go.

In 2020, our journal published a special issue: Animal Behaviour: A Historical Approach. Building upon a symposium organized by Zuleyma Tang-Martinez for the 2019 meeting, the special issue provided a valuable historic overview of our discipline and our Society. I encourage everyone to read this issue (volume 164, June 2020), and in particular, I call attention to the article by Danielle Lee, Diversity and inclusion activisms in animal behaviour and the ABS: a historical view from the USA. This is now required reading for my undergraduate animal behavior majors as it introduces them to many of the under-represented scientists and “unsung heroes” in our field. It provides a foundation within which they understand behavior and introduces them to a diversity of role models.

Like many scientific societies, ABS continues to invest time, energy, and resources to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in our Society. We have made great strides in 60 years, but clearly, we still have a long way to go. With ongoing support and effort, we can become a Society that represents diversity at all of its levels.


ABS Newsletter

Send general correspondence concerning the Society to Norman Lee, Secretary, at: [email protected]. Deadlines for materials to be included in the Newsletter are the 15th of the month preceding each issue. The next deadline is September 15, 2023. Articles submitted by members of the Society and judged by the Secretary to be appropriate are occasionally published in the ABS newsletter. The publication of such material does not imply ABS endorsement of the opinions expressed by contributors.

Animal Behavior Society Website: http://www.animalbehaviorsociety.org

Animal Behaviour

Animal Behavior, manuscripts and editorial matters: Authors should submit manuscripts online to Elsevier’s Editorial System (http://ees.elsevier.com/anbeh/). For enquiries relating to submissions prior to acceptance, contact the Journal Manager ([email protected]). For enquiries relating to submissions after acceptance, visit Elsevier at http://www.elsevier.com/journals. For other general correspondence, contact Kris Bruner, Managing Editor, Animal Behaviour, Indiana University, 409 N. Park Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47408, USA. E-mail: [email protected]. Phone: 812-345-0497.

Change of address, missing or defective issues: ABS Central Office, 2111 Chestnut Avenue, Suite 145, Glenview, IL 60025, US. Phone: 312-893-6585. Fax: 312-896-5614. E-mail: [email protected].