How are animal behaviors measured and interpreted?

2 Answers
Jul 6, 2015

Behavioral ecology is often measured in cost/benefit way.


Any behavior come with a cost in energy, a higher or lower risk of being predated etc, but also are motivated by a gain.
Animals are confronted with choices and what they chose to do, their behaviors have an outcome on their survival chances and reproductive chances.
Therefor, through natural selection and evolution, some behaviors have been selected.

The heart of behavioral ecology is the experiments. Animals are confronted to choices and the compromisation between cost and benefit is studied. If we found that the cost are higher than the gain, it means that the studied animal is not adapted to its habitats (introduction?) or most likely that we forget some parameter (perhaps the gain will come in the future or we just missed them).

For instance a feeding strategy of some shore birds is to fly with a clam and to drop it on the ground to open it. Researcher finds in laboratory the height that was optimal to have good chances to open the clam. They then observe that the birds use a height very similar to the one they calculated. Meaning that through evolution birds that used that height to drop the clam have been more successful since birds that dropped it from a lower high had to try again which is expensive in energy and bird that fly unnecessarily height had higher cost of flight for the same gain in energy.

Jul 12, 2015

Animal behavior can be analyzed by observation and data collection.


Animal behavior can be measured by observation and analysis of data, so you can discuss results based on what you have found as well as other scientists of the reserach field.
All of your data needs to be thorough (dates, time stamps, location site, coordinates, and notes about the area) and comments about the focused group.
Depending on the taxon studied (could be a species, genus, family or families, an order, or even a phylum) you can take anatomical measurements (size of the head, body, snout, tail, etc...) and body weight.
Then, based on your observations, you can designate a pattern of behavior for each activity (e.g. social interaction, parental care, display, etc..).
This data set can be analyzed one by one, or you can arrange them in matrices to build an ethogram, which is a table with each and every behavior observed and its frequencies and/or duration.
The ethogram is a powerful tool used in ethology (the field that focus on the study of animal behavior).
These informations are critical for understanding species' life history traits and useful for their manegement and conservation.