12 Research Essay Topics on Behavioral Ecology

Topics and ideas
Posted on March 25, 2016

Research essays must be factual, interesting and informative. That way, they can show a student’s ability to think critically about the topic. If you are assigned with a research essay on animal behavioral ecology, these 12 interesting facts will inspire you to come up with an exciting topic and complement your research with cold, hard facts that will guarantee you a good grade. There is a handy list of direct reference sources at the end, so check them out for more materials for your research essay.

  1. Animals have to navigate through complex living environments throughout their entire lives. This is a challenging task, especially for group-living animals. Effective navigation and response to environmental variables requires the transmission of vital information within the group. The transmission of the information follows a certain pattern. This pattern or network is based on the relative spatial position of each individual. The interactions, which are mapped from the perspective of the spatial range of one individual, can be categorized by the definition of range:
    • Metric Range: Interaction with all individuals present within a fixed distance
    • Topological Range: Interaction with a set number of neighbors
    • Voronoi Range: Interaction with neighbors located in a shell or plane
  1. Potential mates are also considered a resource in the animal kingdom. Animals compete for mates among other resources such as food and territory. To maximize their chances of producing offspring, animals will try to distribute themselves across the available mating pool. The mating strategies of the males within a species differ widely. This is because the specific tactics used for obtaining mates are very different within a specific specie as well as among same species living in different environments.
  1. Animal migrations are a fascinating and ecologically significant phenomenon. Species migrate from one trophic level to another to seek food and better breeding grounds. Fluctuating resources can be better exploited in this manner. Fast moving species such as birds benefit the most from this strategy and travel hundreds of miles when winter sets in and habitats become inhospitable.
  1. Animal social behaviors and the underlying neural processes are affected by specific attributes. Within animal groups, traits such as rank in the hierarchy, physical strength, ability to effectively defend resources, age, and participation in cooperative activities are major factors which come into play.
  1. Highly altruistic behaviors, such as cooperative foraging, are observed in some species. This seems to go against the classical ideas of natural selection. Animals will make use of signaling to direct members of their own species and create a shared food source. The reason for this behavior is that animals in groups realize that incurring a little cost to their individual selves is offset by the advantages offered by a highly-fit cooperative group.
  1. Patterns of parental care differ vastly amongst animal species. Factors that affect parental patterns can be ecological or physiological. Among invertebrates, there is a pattern of no parental care. This allows the parents to produce a large number of eggs, the fate of which is left to chance. On the other hand, the female of the bee species, L. figueresi, will stock its larvae cells with nectar and pollen and then die before the offspring would hatch.
  1. Some animals are brood parasites. They do not take care of their offspring. Instead they essentially trick an animal belonging to another specie into becoming a parenting-proxy for them. When the offspring is born, it monopolizes the host’s resources and competes with the other “siblings”. The most common example of a brood parasite is the common cuckoo. The cuckoo hatchling is quite an aggressive brood parasite because it ejects all the other host’s hatchlings out of the nest. Cowbirds, large blue butterfly and honeyguides are also brood parasites.
  1. Animals are known to cooperate with each other and have even learned to show highly altruistic behaviors in some cases. The main reason for this is that the individual can maximize its own fitness levels by cooperating with other animals.
  1. In order to understand animal behavior, Niko Tinbergen, one of the pioneers of the field says that one must consider the four main factors connected to the behavior. These factors can be posed in terms of ‘why’ questions. The phenomenon is adequately explained if all these four factors are understood.
    • The cause of the behavior
    • The developmental aspect
    • The adaptive function or the advantage it serves
    • The connection with the evolutionary history
  1. The parental care pattern of most birds is centered on desertion. In cases where food sources are plenty, one partner will remain to take care of the offspring. Sometimes populational and environmental factors also play a role in desertion. For instance, if a partner has a significant chance to gain another mate, they will abandon their offspring.
  1. A major concept in behavioral ecology is economic defendability. The term is used in scenarios where an animal is defending currently held resources, but for a cost. This cost is in terms of energy expended and risk of injury. There is a definite benefit connected to it as well: having quick access to the resource. An imbalance in the costs and benefits is the root cause of territorial behavior observed in animals.
  1. Male lions sometimes practice infanticide. When a new male lion takes over a pride, they will sometimes kill the cubs already present. This is a curious behavior that is explained from an evolutionary perspective. Behavioral ecologists assume that killing the cubs ensures that the females regain their reproductive condition much faster. If the cubs are allowed to live, lionesses will come into oestrus after 25 months. Killing the cubs shortens this time to about 9 months. As the reproductive life of a male is short, this behavior does give them an advantage.

These facts should be enough to get your academic paper going. If you find this article helpful then you may also check our 20 topics and 1 sample essay on behavioral ecology as well as our guide on writing a research essay on this subject.


  1. Strandburg-Peshkin, A., Twomey, C.R., Bode, N.W., Kao, A.B., Katz, Y., Ioannou, C.C., Rosenthal, S.B., Torney, C.J., Wu, H., Levin, S.A. & Couzin, I.D. (2013) Visual sensory networks and effective information transfer in animal groups, Current Biology 23(17), R709-711. [PDF]
  2. Dominey, Wallace (1984). “Alternative Mating Tactics and Evolutionarily Stable Strategies”. American Zoology 24 (2): 385–396. doi:10.1093/icb/24.2.385.
  3. Dorst, J. (2015). migration | animal. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 8 March 2016, from http://www.britannica.com/science/migration-animal
  4. 63 Hamilton, I.M. et al. (2005) Size differences within a dominance hierarchy influence conflict and help in a cooperatively breeding cichlid. Behaviour 142, 1591–1613 64
  5. Clutton-Brock, T. (2002) Breeding together: kin selection and mutualism in cooperative vertebrates. Science 296, 69–72
  6. Torney, C., Berdahl, A., & Couzin, I. (2011). Signalling and the Evolution of Cooperative Foraging in Dynamic Environments. Plos Comput Biol, 7(9), e1002194. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002194
  7. Parker, G. (1979). “Sexual selection and sexual conflict.” In: Sexual Selection and Reproductive Competition in Insects (eds. M.S. Blum and N.A. Blum). Academic Press, New York: pp123-166.
  8. Chapman, T.; et al. (2003). “Sexual Selection”. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 18: 41–47.doi:10.1016/s0169-5347(02)00004-6.
  9. Payne, R. B. 1997. Avian brood parasitism. In D. H. Clayton and J. Moore (eds.), Host-parasite evolution: General principles and avian models, 338–369. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  10. Davies, Krebs, West, Nicholas B., John R., Stuart A. (2012). An Introduction to Behavioral Ecology. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 307–333. ISBN 978-1-4051-1416-5.
  11. Davies, N., Krebs, J., & West, S. (2012). An introduction to behavioural ecology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  12. Beissinger, S.R.; Snyder, N.F.R. (1987). “Mate desertion in the snail kite”. Animal Behaviour 35: 477–487.doi:10.1016/s0003-3472(87)80273-7.
  13. Brown, Jerram (June 1964). “The evolution of diversity in avian territorial systems”. The Wilson Bulletin 76 (2): 160–169. JSTOR 4159278.
  14. Davies, N., Krebs, J., & West, S. (2012). An introduction to behavioural ecology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Upgrade your essays with these FREE writing tools!
Get started now