Niko Tiribergen, comparative studies and evolution

  • Michael H. Robinson


All sciences have an ontogeny, and ethology is no exception. When I joined the Animal Behaviour Group in 1963, Niko Tinbergen was talking about ‘a science as young as ours’ (Tinbergen, 1963). At that time I think it is fair to say that British ethology was in its adolescent phase. It had certainly passed youth, which, like senescence, is characterized by innocence. We were then full of adolescent passion and idealism, but perhaps lacking some degree of judgement and adult cynicism. We believed in an attainable state of revelation about the mysteries of behaviour, and that somehow we were standard-bearers. Much of the language of those days centred on the function and evolution of behaviour and in fact, Niko’s Aims and Methods in Ethology’ was a kind of state of the Union document that assessed progress, problems, and in some ways redefined the mission of Oxford ethology. It contained a reiteration of the definition of ethology as the biological study of behaviour and, importantly for my present purpose, put evolutionary studies as one of its four key components. If we were truly evolutionary ethologists at that time, then the comparative method was one of the main devices in our armoury. I shall herein attempt a somewhat idiosyncratic review to show why I think comparative studies are extraordinarily important.


Behaviour Evolution Stick Insect Linnean Society Evolutionary Insight Hunting Predator 
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Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael H. Robinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Smithsonian InstituteWashington DCUSA

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