Behavior & Ecology

Session Date: 
Mar 23, 2019

The Matrix of Comparative Anthropogeny (MOCA, lists 72 topics under the domains of Behavior and Ecology, but this greatly underestimates the role of behavior and ecology in hominin evolution.  For example, the genetical, physiological and anatomical traits underlying bipedalism all probably owe their evolution to a behavioral change in an ancestor that created selection pressures favoring bipedal locomotion.   Much of our understanding of behavior has relied on the phenotypic gambit – the assumption that we can safely ignore the genetic and physiological bases of behaviors and focus on the fitness consequences of phenotypes (their “function”).  Doing so has been productive, but explicitly ignoring three of “Tinbergen’s four questions” can be problematic: in addition to analysis of adaptive function, full understanding requires knowledge of proximate causation, evolutionary history, and ontogenetic development.  In the next 10 years, I expect that a more integrated approach, as illustrated by recent work on the self-domestication hypothesis, will yield insights into the exact sense in which human behaviors have “evolved”.