Chapter 5 Insights for Behavioral Ecology from Behavioral Syndromes

Andrew Sih, Alison M. Bell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


After placing the study of behavioral syndromes into historical perspective and clarifying some misconceptions about the term, the aim of this chapter is to illustrate some of the important questions that come into focus when viewing animal behavior through "behavioral syndromes lenses." In general, we see two particularly exciting research directions. One of these focuses on trying to understand variation in behavioral syndromes. The other applies the behavioral syndromes approach to topics of interest to behavioral ecologists that have not historically focused on individual variation: For any given behavior, do individuals behave consistently differently from each other? If so, are those differences correlated across contexts? The next major task in studies of behavioral syndromes themselves is to quantify and explain the patterns of variation in behavioral syndromes. As a first step, for example, we would like to know which behaviors tend to occur in clusters and which tend to be independent? When do correlations break down over ontogenetic and evolutionary time? Then, the challenge is to explain those patterns from both a proximate and ultimate perspective- how does selection act on differences in the lability of proximate mechanisms to produce variable correlations? At the same time, we expect that the next major wave of studies on behavioral syndromes will apply these ideas to understand topics of interest to behavioral ecologists, things like mate choice, cooperation, and group living. We described several relatively understudied axes of behavioral variation, for example environmental and social sensitivity, learning, choosiness, cooperativeness, etc, all of which could offer new insights into long-standing questions. Along the way, we highlighted other priorities for research such as consideration of nonbehavioral traits such as physiology and morphology as part of an integrated phenotype and the inclusion of conceptual (e.g., dynamic programming, network theory, and path analysis) and empirical (e.g., genomics) tools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in the Study of Behavior
EditorsJane Brockmann, Katherine Wynne-Edwards, Chris Barnard, John Mitani, Timothy Roper, Marc Naguib
Number of pages55
StatePublished - 2008

Publication series

NameAdvances in the Study of Behavior
ISSN (Print)0065-3454

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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