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New book on animal behavior provides integrated view

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. (March 22, 2011) - An animal's behavior is probably its most attention-attracting aspect, both to scientists and nonscientists alike. Its behavior involves processes internal to the animalgenetics, neurobiology, and physiologyas well as those external to itenvironment and social surroundings. According to the book's authors, "Animal behavior weaves itself throughout the tapestry of biology: It is sparked when neurons fire in response to stimuli in the external world, it forms interactions that lead to reproduction and genetic propagation, and it enhances complex group function, even when it emerges from seemingly simple self-organizing principles." It is this premise on which Michael J. Ryan of The University of Texas at Austin and Walter Wilczynski of the Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University, Atlanta have based their new book An Introduction to Animal Behavior: An Integrative Approach, just published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

In this book, the authors use the interrelationship of the aspects of animal behavior, as codified in Nikolaas Tinbergen's "four questions" of causation, ontogeny, survival value, and evolution, to derive what they believe is a correct interpretation of behavior. To illustrate their view, Drs. Ryan and Wilczynski explore classic behavioral studies as well as up-to-the-minute research in areas as diverse as molecular genomics, patterns, anatomy and physiology, neurobiology, endocrinology, development, learning, evolutionary genomics, and phylogenetics. As the authors point out, "This book is unique in providing a balanced, integrated look at animal behavior that connects the behavior itself to evolutionary considerations on the one hand and to mechanistic processes on the other."

Drs. Ryan and Wilczynski have worked together since the early 1980s on research exploring amphibian acoustic communication that integrates evolutionary and mechanistic studies of behavior. "It was through these interactions that we both became convinced that integrative animal behavior consists of more than just cataloging data at different levels of analysis but is most potent when it uses information at each level of analysis to inform research and interpretations at other levels."

Their book is divided into three main sections: Basic Concepts, covering the function and evolution of behavior as well as the mechanism and acquisition of behavior; The Search for Resources, which discusses foraging, migration, and orientation; and Social Behavior, which includes species recognition and sexual selection, social bonding and cooperation, and conflict and aggression. The book is copiously illustrated with examples critical to understanding the concepts discussed. This book will appeal to upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and others wanting a succinct introduction to this integrative approach to animal behavior studies.


Contact: Elizabeth Powers
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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