We humans find animal-watching fascinating. Understanding and predicting the behaviour of animals has been crucial to our survival. There is a marvellous diversity in behaviour – we are yet to understand fully why such diversity exists. The speaker discusses, using examples from her work, how one can puzzle out why animals do what they do, and how ecology shapes the evolution of behaviour. She focuses on some rare and spectacular social behaviour, and shows that this arises under particular combinations of ecology and life history. These combinations are uncommon, therefore, such behaviour is not only rare but perhaps also particularly vulnerable to ‘extinction’. The speaker further discusses the possibility that in this increasingly human-modified world, behavioural diversity may be going extinct even faster than species diversity. But should behavioural extinctions really worry us so long as species continue to persist?
Animals display a bewildering diversity of solutions to common problems, such as how to avoid predators, how to find and choose mates, how many offspring to have, and how much resources to allocate to each offspring. Some of these behavioural solutions are particularly intriguing because they appear unexpectedly extravagant and costly. Dr. Isvaran is interested in the ecology and evolution of such diversity in behaviour and life histories. She is also interested in the consequences of adaptive behaviour for populations, and in applying behavioural and ecological principles towards conservation questions. Dr. Kavita Isvaran is at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.