On the integration of mechanism and function in behavioural research

Christopher Evans

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Niko Tinbergen is rightly celebrated for his role in establishing the study of animal behaviour as a scientific enterprise. But he would probably be surprised that many researchers working in the field today value his theoretical contribution more than his empirical work. I shall briefly review the history of behavioural research since Tinbergen, illustrating the changes in fashion over the last four decades. The splintering of ethology famously predicted by E.O. Wilson seemed an established fact 20 years ago, and there have certainly been periods in which work on evolution and on mechanism were almost entirely divorced - much to the impoverishment of both communities. Today, there is renewed interest in truly integrative analyses. The catalyst for this change has been the demonstration, by several research groups and in diverse taxa, that sensory processes are central to models of signal evolution, just as cognitive processes cannot be fully understood if we ignore their function. I shall argue that Tinbergen's "four questions" remain his most enduring legacy.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventASSAB 2007 - Canberra
Duration: 12 Apr 200715 Apr 2007


ConferenceASSAB 2007

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