Comparative Animal Behavior Research: THE ETHOGRAM



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Comparative Animal Behavior LAB

ETHOGRAMS


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What is an ethogram?

"An ethogram is a catalog of an animal’s behavioral repertoire, detailing the different forms of behavior that are displayed by an animal. In most cases, it is desirable to create an ethogram in which the categories of behavior are objective, discrete, and do not overlap with each other. Definitions should be clear, detailed and distinguishable from each other.

Ethograms can be as specific or general as the study warrants. A research project dealing strictly with aggressive behavior in chimpanzees can be composed simply of the various forms of aggression displayed by that species. Alternatively, some studies seek to describe all facets of a particular animal's behavior, and the appropriate ethogram will comprehensively categorize any and all behaviors that may occur." from the AZAA, Behavioral Advisory Group

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      THE ETHOGRAM.

      The ethogram is an inventory or catalogue of all observed actions (divide into manageable "units of behavior") ; a survey, as complete and precise as possible, of all the behavior patterns characteristics of a species. Compilation of an ethogram provides a starting point for experimental investigation of species-typical behavior and for interpretation of the results. A descriptive behavior study or descriptive ethology has to contend with the critical problems of categorizing and labeling behavior patterns, and, if called for, sorting them into principled classes. Also, analysis of a longer behavior sequence may reveal temporal associations among its components (see SEQUENCE ANALYSIS).

      In the early years of animal behavior study, ethograms were compiled mainly from what ethologists called observation protocols. Nowadays numerous aids are available, which help in the making of protocols, and allow for precise analyses and permanent records. Thus observations can be spoken into a tape recorder tape, avoiding the interruption entailed in writing down notes. Through the use of film and video and audio tape-recording, movements an sound sequences can be recorded and analyzed into their constituents, ample, through frame-by-frame analysis. To analyze complex movements, some ethologists have used the notational methods of choreography to describe the motions of a single limb or its parts in relation to the rest of the body parts, to the animal’s surroundings, or to the behavior of other individuals.

(adapted from Immelmann and Beer, A Dictionary of Ethology (Harvard UP 1989)


      NOTE: NAMING the units of behavior must be as free from functional inference as possible -- what looks like "courtship" might actually have a completely different function. Also, the same motor patterns in different species can have very different functions.



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ETHOGRAM in Progress for the Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis [click here]
The Lincoln Park Zoo has sponsored a web page for ethograms coordinated by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Behavioral Advisory Group. [click here]
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