The Future of Zoo Research: 50 Years of Zoo Behavior

Organizers: Susan Margulis and Nancy Scott

In 1967, a symposium was held at the annual meeting of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums on the Use of Zoos and Aquariums in Teaching Animal Behavior. The value of zoos as research venues remains somewhat overlooked; lamentable, given the rich resource that zoos present for both basic and applied studies. Fifty years later, we reflect on the current trends in zoo research by bringing together experts who will speak to the nature of zoo behavioral studies, the kinds of questions that can be addressed, application to scientific management and husbandry, and future directions in zoo behavioral research. The growing emphasis on animal welfare science makes this symposium particularly timely, as zoos remain at the forefront of applied animal welfare studies. Behavioral research in zoos spans a range of sub-disciplines within the broad field of animal behavior, and these will be represented in the symposium. We aim to highlight the extent to which zoo behavioral research has grown beyond development of short-term projects for college classes and emergent problem-solving to hypothesis-driven research with substantial theoretical underpinnings and statistical validity as well as real-world application. The list of potential speakers bridges the zoo and academic worlds and emphasizes the contributions that have been, and can be, made to basic biological knowledge, animal welfare, and conservation.

Bonnie Baird, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Erika Bauer, Smithsonian Institution
Eduardo Fernandez, University of Washington
Susan Margulis, Canisius College
Georgia Mason, University of Guelph
Gabriela Mastromonaco, Toronto Zoo
Kathy Carlstead, Smithsonian
Jill Mellen, Disney's Animal Kingdom
Beth Stark Posta, The Toledo Zoo
Nancy Scott, Dallas Zoo
Jason Watters, San Francisco Zoological Society


Animal Cognition: Mechanisms, Ecology and Evolution

Organizers: Reuven Dukas and John Ratcliffe

Cognitive ​ ​ ecology focuses on the ecology and evolution of cognition, defined as the neuronal processes concerned with the acquisition, retention, and use of information. The past few decades have seen an increasing number of researchers within the discipline of cognitive ecology. The first two “Cognitive Ecology” symposia, which were held at the 1994 and 2007 Animal Behavior Society meetings, summarized some of the research in the growing discipline and resulted in the publications of two edited volumes (Dukas 1998, Dukas and Ratcliffe 2009). The proposed 2017 symposium will allow us to gather some of the experts in the area for formal overviews and brainstorming. We will focus on speakers who can integrate ecology and evolution with mechanisms of animal cognition. While we will include some established researchers, the emphasis will be on newcomers to the discipline. We will ask all prospective speakers to focus on fresh ideas and novel research methods, and to devote significant time to discussing future research directions for the next decade.

Sara Benson-Amram, University of Wyoming
Reuven Dukas, McMaster University
Aimee Dunlap, University of Missouri
Alexander Kotrschal, Stockholm University
Julie Morand-Ferron, University of Ottawa
Steve Phelps, University of Texas
Vladimir Pravosoduv, University of Nevada
John Ratcliffe, University of Toronto
Mike Ryan, University of Texas
Emilie Snell-Rood, University of Minnesota


Behavioural Biodiversity: What can under-studied lineages reveal about behavioural ecology?

Organizers: Maydianne Andrade, Andrew Mason and Malcolm Rosenthal

Taxonomic skew in studies of animal behaviour, and other fields, is severe. In a recent analysis of publication patterns over the history of the journal Animal Behaviour, the magnitude of the issue is clear. Papers on chordates make up 70% of all publications published between 2000 and 2015 despite accounting for fewer than 7% of animal species. Within chordates, birds and mammals comprise over 50% of publications, and some subject areas show even more severe skew. We argue that a broader and more representative approach is essential if research in this discipline is aimed at the discovery of general principles about behaviour and evolution. In this symposium, we tackle the issue of taxonomic skew with a focus on lineages that are understudied relative to their representation in nature, and that can provide important tests of existing paradigms, or that are likely to shed new light on our understanding. We end with a discussion centred on two questions: (1) is taxonomic skew negatively affecting our field? and (2) should we consider approaches that could support broadening of taxonomic representation in studies of animal behaviour?

Malcolm Rosenthal, University of California Berkeley
Shelley Adamo, Dalhousie University
Michael Kasumovic, University of New South Wales
Sarah Bengston, University of Rochester
Darryl Gwynne, University of Toronto Mississauga
Chrissie Painting, University of Aukland
Mark Laidre, Dartmouth
Emilie Snell-Rood, University of Minnesota
Locke Rowe, University of Toronto


Presidential Symposium: Predicting Behavior

Organizer: Emília P. Martins

Predictions are a powerful tool for understanding animal behavior, and the need for accurate predictions has become increasingly pressing with the growing impact of anthropogenic forces such as urbanization, pollution and climate change. However, animal behavior is inherently complex, such that making specific predictions about future behavior can seem a daunting task. To predict future behavior, we need to understand the underlying mechanisms, environmental factors, developmental forces, and evolutionary contexts that constrain or promote particular types of changes. We also need to know how these aspects interact with each other, and to obtain quantitative estimates of their relative importance. As an important consequence, the process of prediction often leads to the identification of simple rules that explain complex phenomena as well as powerful manipulations that can effectively confirm or refute hypotheses.

For this symposium, we bring together experts who work on a wide range of animals from a diversity of perspectives and challenge them to make specific predictions about behavioral change in response to climate shifts, urbanization or other forces. Along the way, we asked speakers to review what is known about plasticity and change, and to recommend future research that would facilitate the prediction process for other researchers.

Rebecca J. Safran, University of Colorado
Karen L. Carleton, University of Maryland, College Park
Michael J. Sheehan, Cornell University
Barbara Taborsky, Universität Bern, Switzerland
Monserrat Suárez-Rodriguez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Ximena E. Bernal, Purdue University
Mikus Abolins-Abols, Indiana University
Diana K. Hews, Indiana State University


Allee Symposium for Best Student Paper

Organizer: John P. Swaddle

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 2017 ABS Allee Session, students will present their research to ABS members and talk judges.