Using Molecules to Study Behaviour

Behavioural ecology is a branch of biology that seeks to understand how an animal's response to a particular situation or stimulus is influenced by its ecology and evolutionary history. Areas of research in behavioural ecology are varied, and include mate choice, brood parasitism, cooperative breeding, foraging behaviour, dispersal, territoriality, and the manipulation of offspring sex ratios. As with other fields of ecological research, the study of behavioural ecology was traditionally based on either laboratory or field work. Laboratory work has made many important contributions because it allows us to manipulate organisms under controlled conditions and observe them at close quarters. At the same time, laboratory-based research is limited because many species cannot be kept in captivity; of those that can, observations often must be interpreted in context because captive conditions can never exactly mimic those in the wild. Observations and experiments involving wild populations have also been a valuable source of information, although again there are limitations, for example it may not be possible to identify individuals or to follow and observe them for prolonged periods.

In recent years, molecular data have often been used to supplement the more traditional approaches, particularly when studying individuals in the wild. From small amounts of blood, hair, feathers or other biological samples we can generate genotypes that can tell us the genetic relationships among individuals, or can identify which individual a particular sample originated from. In this chapter we shall concentrate first on how calculations of the relatedness of individuals based on molecular data have greatly enhanced our understanding of mating systems and kin selection. We shall then look at some of the applications of sex-linked markers, before moving on to an overview of how gene flow estimates and individual

Molecular Ecology Joanna Freeland © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

genotypes have helped us to understand a number of behaviours that are associated with dispersal, foraging and migration.

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