Behavioral Ecology

Spices have played a major role in human history. The Gothic leader Alaric, who laid siege to Rome nearly 2,500 years ago, demanded (in addition to large quantities of precious metals) 1,364 kilograms of pepper as a ransom. The voyages of Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, and Christopher Columbus were underwritten by kings and undertaken at great risk to sailors to find new and faster routes to spice-growing countries.

Why do humans crave spices? We know that spices enhance the flavors and colors of foods. However, that simple answer quickly suggests other questions. Why do we find foods more appealing when they contain pungent plant products? Why do people use dozens of different kinds of spices? Why are the foods of some cultures spicier than others? These questions are typical of the kinds of questions biologists ask about how and why animals make choices about what kinds of foods to eat. Such questions are the concern of behavioral ecology, a field that merges two areas of study within the life sciences.

Ecology is the science that deals with all kinds of biological interactions in the living world. Interactions among individuals of the same species may give rise to complex social behaviors and elaborate social systems. Biological interactions also include those between individuals of different species and between organisms and their physical environment. These interactions, in turn, influence the structure of communities (the organisms living together in the same area), ecosystems (all organisms in an area and their physical environment), and the biosphere (see Figure 1.6).

In this first chapter of Part Eight, we will look at the field of behavioral ecology. We will discuss how organisms respond to changes in the environment, decide where to carry out their activities, select the resources they need (food, water, shelter, nest sites), respond to predators and competitors, and associate with other members of their own species. Individual behavioral choices are the foundation of much of ecology because changes in the densities and distributions of populations are the cumulative results of the decisions of many individuals.

Our use of the words "decision" and "decide" here does not imply that the behavioral choices animals make are conscious. Rather, we mean that behavioral choices have been molded by natural selection such that individuals act "as if" they knew how their choices would influence their survival and reproductive success.

The term environment, as used by ecologists, includes both abiotic (physical and chemical) factors, such as water, nutrients,

The Quest for Spice Over the centuries humans have traveled far and endured great risks in order to provide themselves with pungent spices from tropical plants. What is it about spices that produces such a profound effect on our behavior?

Behavioral Ecology

light, temperature, and wind, and biotic factors, which includes all other organisms living in an area. Interactions between organisms and their environments are two-way processes: Organisms both influence and are influenced by their environments. Indeed, dealing with environmental changes caused by our own species is one of the major challenges facing organisms in the modern world. For this reason, ecologists are often asked to help analyze causes of environmental problems and to assist in finding solutions for them. However, it is important not to confuse the science of ecology with "environmentalism," or with the term "ecology," as it is often used in popular writing, to describe nature as some kind of superorganism.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

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