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DEEP Ethology

The Integrative Biology of Behavior

Brief Overview

DEEP ethology is an integrative way of bringing insight to problems involving the causes and consequences of behavior. Each of the four major biological disciplines (DEVELOPMENT, ECOLOGY, EVOLUTION, and PHYSIOLOGY) overlap considerably with each other, but considered as necessary components of a comprehensive view of behavior often evokes creative interactions that clarify issues and point to solutions.

The DEEP ethologist begins with a behavioral pattern and seeks insight as to its CAUSES and CONSEQUENCES from this concerted interdisciplinary scrutiny. In this way the HOLISTIC and REDUCTIONIST points of view seen as complementary This INTERDISCIPLINARY approach reflects the view that while disciplines seem to have boundaries, REAL LIFE foes not.

To begin, we must engage the central organizing principles of the respective disciplines that contribute to ethological insight.

The questions associated with each perspective could be asked of virtually any trait as an entry point into the constellation of biological concerns .. the DEEP perspectives are overlapping and in some cases interlocked, but once into process, additional questions will flow if not cascade from these preliminary questions. The ease with which the process proceeds is dependent on the precision of the description of the trait being investigated. The description and the questions can be expected to fine-tune each other as you proceed.

​study of change in individuals -- becoming "all you can be" -- involves the progressive expression of genetic potential as enabled or suppressed in specific environments and NEURO/BEHAVIORAL PLASTICITY (learning)
​the contexts: climate, geology, and other animals -- involves the context in which behavior occurs and the organism's interactions with that context ​study of change across generations -- the "ultimate" cause and consequence of behavior -- involves biological variations that affect changes in traits. ​study of how animals function -- involves the "proximate" biological cause for the expression of any behavioral trait. 
Key Words: ONTOGENY, EXPERIENCE and EPIGENETICS Key Words: BIOTIC (predaors, prey, conspecifics) and ABIOTIC (geology, climate) Key Words: GENES and MEMES.  ADAPTATION, FITNESS Key Words: NERVOUS SYSTEM and ENDOCRINE SYSTEM; STRESS
How do the predictable change in the developing organism interact with the unpredictable changes in the environment? Does the likelihood of a specific behavioral pattern CHANGE throughout one's life? Would a specific experience affect the organism in different ways at different ages? why?
Is the likelihood of a specific behavioral pattern different in different (physical or social) contexts? What aspect of the environment enables or impairs experience? Why? given a specific ecology, what are the costs and benefits of a particular trait?
What are the ultimate causes and consequences of the likelihood of a specific behavioral pattern ... is it ever adaptive"? (that is, does it contribute to biological fitness?) Has this phenomenon evolved? When did it arise in our ancestry? How will it affect our fitness? Why?
What are the proximate causes and consequences of the likelihood of a specific behavioral pattern? How does the organism recognize it? How is the current experience integrated with past (and possible anticipated?) experiences? What is the path information takes (consider "top-down" and "bottom-up")
​A complete inventory of potential developmental influences is not feasible, requiring "educated guesses" based on other work. ​The broadest possible questions would engage every variable detectable; we must approximate what we think might be relevant based on our observations or other work
​The questions that reach for answers about ultimate causes and consequences approach the boundaries of knowledge of the most ancient past or our ability to envision the future. ​The questions about the most proximate causes or consequences approach the boundaries of our knowledge about the functions of cellular submolecular components.
Each section has a specific aspect of biology as its principle target -- They ask different questions and have different methods of answering them, each appropriate to the level of organization that is being studied.

Of course the disciplines --their questions and the methods developed for answering them-- often overlap but they can often be more fully understood from the perspectives of these specific aspects of biology

DESCRIPTION -- behavior defined -- objective and mechanistic description of acts without reference to function. Cytology, morphology, morphometrics, anatomy; "structural phenotype." [more on description]

The first step to a DEEP analysis of any particular behavioral pattern, is to first DEFINE or DESCRIBE that behavior in as much detail as might be needed. (See Ethogram). For example --if you want to know more about the causes and consequences of "grooming" behavior, first describe it in detail. What are the motor patterns? Then, when was the behavior first seen? Might it be learned from others? (developmental perspective); what were the contexts in which the behavior was seen? what are variations in its expression at different times? are there effects on the performer attributable to the observer? (ecological perspective); Is a comparable behavioral pattern seen in kin? (evolutionary perspective).

Overarching and Integral Considerations


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