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on the evolution
of behaviour

Do elephants weep, and, if so, is this part of an emotional response which influences their behaviour? What is behaviour? Why do animals behave the way they do and why has behaviour evolved in so many different ways?  In this two-hour tutorial, we will consider behaviours from a broad range of animals, exploring foraging and web-building in spiders, social communication in ants, learning in dogs, and tool use in birds and mammals. This tutorial has been developed for students reading genetics, neuroscience, psychology,
zoology, philosophy and anthropology. 

We begin by studying the nature of behaviour. Whilst animal behaviours are undoubtedly shaped by evolution, many animals retain amazing behavioural flexibility which underlies capacity to learn and in turn shapes future behaviour. A brain isn't required for some bah behaviour. We may even see behaviour outside of the animal kingdom. Take Dictyostelium discoideum, often referred to as slime mould. This soil-dwelling amoeba is not an animal but it is part of the protist kingdom. It appears to behave; it can move and orient towards a light source placed in the Petri dish in which it is being studied. What appears to be 'purposeful' movement is, in fact, light-induced release of cAMP resulting in phototactic orientation.  Is this an example of behaviour? Or take the single-celled amoeba Difflugia coronate. This organism, despite having no nervous system, can build a complex little shell in which to reside from sand grains. Behaviour? We then turn to the nature of animal instincts - why do they exist and how have they evolved? Do instincts develop as a consequence of Divine Providence, as a result of interaction with environment or through natural selection? We then study the nature and evolution of feeding behaviours seen in more complex creatures, for example, sand martins, barn swallows and Hawaiian honey creepers, the digging behaviour of mammals and insects when building homes, and sexual diversity in ducks and dolphins. In the second part of this tutorial, we consider the emergence of more intricate mental states and behaviours such as  prelinguistic semantics and protolanguage. How does co-operative social interaction and reciprocal altruism develop? Does altruism really exist? What are the factors determining mate selection and how have they arisen? Can we explain animal behaviour purely through Darwinian theory? In the final part of this session, we address the evolution of learning behaviour in humans and other mammals, incorporating modern genetic and molecular theories to explain its development.

For further information and a programme, please email Dr Guy Sutton at  the address in the footer below.

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