Behavioral ecology (US spelling) or behavioural ecology (UK spelling) is the study of the ecological and evolutionary basis for animal behavior, and the roles of behavior in enabling animals to adapt to their ecological niches.
Some simple examples of the questions it attempts to answer are:
- Why do lions live in groups, whereas few other cat species do?
- Why do some bird species mate for life, but others not?
- Why do some animal species establish territories, whereas others live in large herds?
Key topics within behavioral ecology include foraging, vigilance, territoriality , mating systems, and sexual selection.
Behavioral ecology is closely allied with ethology, but the latter tends to focus more on proximate causes (including environmental stimuli, genetic bases, or physiological mechanisms) for behavior.
Before about 1980, behavioral ecology and sociobiology were more or less synonyms. However, attempts to apply theories of the evolution of animal behavior to human beings became very controversial. Since these attempts were closely associated with the sociobiology term, most workers in the field nowadays prefer to use the term behavioral ecology for the less controversial application of these ideas to animals in general.
- J.R. Krebs and Nicholas Davies, An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology [ISBN 0632035463]
- J.R. Krebs and Nicholas Davies, Behavioural Ecology: an evolutionary approach [ISBN 0865427313]
(These two are respectively first/second college year level, and third/fourth college year level)