This research unit is funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation)
Genetic and environmental factors interact to generate the reaction norm and enable the adaptive integration of environmental information into the phenotype. For most traits - including behaviour - phenotypic plasticity decreases strongly during ontogeny. It has often been postulated that behaviour is a pace-maker of evolution but it has not been investigated in much detail how early ontogeny influences later behaviour. In an explicitly evolutionary context, our Research Unit will concentrate on studying how adult behavioural traits as a consequence of different social and foraging conditions during early ontogeny. Our approach emphasizes that plasticity is an adaptive mechanism building the adult behavioural phenotype during ontogeny. We will investigate the ontogenetic response to relevant ecological factors with an explicit focus on fitness effects of trait adjustments. We approach the problem in a comparative way concentrating on a few species from different taxa (mammals, birds, insects) for which we have massive prior experience. Addressing the issue by asking similar, conceptually closely related questions across projects on animals differing widely in life history traits should allow to extract generalities with regard to (1) the time of information uptake and phenotype change, and (2) the kind of changes that can be induced in important behavioural and life history parameters, and (3) the fit of such changes to the ontogenetic conditions experienced earlier and their adaptive value (i. e. costs and benefits).
Transgenerational effects of the social environment on behaviour and physiology in quail
Nikolaus von Engelhardt, Vivian Goerlich-Jansson, Esther Langen; Bielefeld University
New perspectives in behavioural development: adaptive shaping of behaviour over a lifetime?
The interaction of genetic and environmental factors generates a reaction norm which allows integration of environmental information into the phenotype. It has often been postulated that behaviour is a pace-maker of evolution due to its inherent plasticity, but it has not been investigated in much detail how ontogenetic processes change behavioural plasticity over the lifetime of organisms and whether specific periods exist during which such changes are particularly likely. In an evolutionary context, this workshop will concentrate on the question how behavioural traits develop as a consequence of different experiences during ontogeny. Our approach explicitly considers plasticity as an adaptive mechanism that shapes the juvenile and adult (up to senescence) behavioural phenotype during ontogeny and across generations by epigenetic processes. We will discuss the ontogenetic response to relevant ecological and social factors in a variety of species differing widely in life history traits. By this approach we intend to extract generalities with regard to (1) the evolution of plasticity in reaction norms, (2) ontogenetic stages from conception to death of information uptake and phenotype shaping, (3) the adaptiveness (fitness effects) of behavioural phenotypes, (4) influential periods during ontogeny and trans-generational effects on changes in BP, and (5) the mechanisms underlying such shaping of the behavioural (and physiological) phenotype.