Center for Interdisziplinary Research

ZiF Workshop

New Perspectives in Behavioural Development: Adaptive Shaping of Behaviour over a Lifetime?

Date: 29 September - 1 October 2014

Convenors: Fritz Trillmich (Bielefeld, GER), Sylvia Kaiser (Münster, GER), Lars Lewejohann (Osnabrück, GER), Caroline Müller (Bielefeld, GER), Norbert Sachser (Münster, GER), Klaus Reinhold (Bielefeld, GER), Nikolaus von Engelhardt (Bielefeld, GER)

The interaction of genetic and environmental factors generates a reaction norm which allows individuals to integrate environmental information into the phenotype within their lifetime. Behaviour is a pace-maker of these adjustments as well as in 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. About 50 participants, among them scientists from Europe, Mexico and the US, representing the fields of theoretical and empirical behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology, endocrinology, neurobiology and psychology presented their recent research relevant to this question and discussed the issues of mechanisms behind these phenomena in an evolutionary context. We particularly concentrated on whether constraints to plasticity exist that may lie in the genetic construction of traits and physiological mechanisms generating plasticity. We agreed on considering plasticity as an important adaptive mechanism that shapes the juvenile and adult (up to senescence) behavioural phenotype during ontogeny and across generations by epigenetic processes. We looked critically at experimental methods that may allow to pry apart different causes of changes in phenotypes, like maternal and environmental effects. In particular, we discussed the ontogenetic response to social factors in a variety of species differing widely in life history traits. The brain obviously can integrate and react surprisingly quickly (ranging from minutes to days) to new social information, whereas the endocrine physiology may be slower to change in response to such information. At the same time, endocrine systems seem unlikely to limit plasticity (at least in evolutionary time), since they can be adapted by changes in receptor expression level and expression site within the brain as well as through changing hormone concentrations. We found several influential periods in development like adolescence and first reproduction that allow particularly major readjustment of earlier information about the environment (like maternal effects transmitted during pregnancy or via regulatory ingredients in eggs) during an individual?s life history. We decided to publish our research and the results of our discussions concerning the evolution of plasticity in reaction norms, the ontogenetic stages from conception to death of information uptake and phenotype shaping, and in particular the adaptiveness (fitness effects) of behavioural phenotypes.

The workshop is supported by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG).

Publication emanating from the Workshop:

Trillmich, F., Sachser, N., Müller, C., Reinhold, K. (2014)
New Perspectives in Behavioural Development: Adaptive Shaping of Behaviour over a Lifetime?
Frontiers in Zoology: Volume 12 Supplement 1.


Sarah Benhaiem (Berlin, GER), Hans-Joachim Bischof (Bielefeld, GER), Stefanie Bölting (Bielefeld, GER), Jon Brommer (Turku, FIN), Vera Brust (Osnabrück, GER), David Crews (Austin, USA), Melanie Dammhahn (Potsdam, GER), Marco Del Giudice (Albuquerque, USA), Niels Dingemanse (Seewiesen, GER), Hugh Drummond (Mexico City, MEX), Marion East (Berlin, GER), Jana Eccard (Potsdam, GER), Leif Engqvist (Hinterkappeln, SUI), Tim Fawcett (Bristol, GBR), Russell Fernald (Stanford, USA), Claudia Fichtel (Göttingen, GER), Wolfgang Goymann (Seewiesen, GER), Ton Groothuis (Groningen, NLD), Anja Günther (Bielefeld, GER), Michaela Hau (Seewiesen, GER), Michael B. Hennessy (Dayton, USA), Antje Herde (Potsdam, GER), Katie Hinde (Cambridge, USA), Hans A. Hofmann (Austin, USA), Robyn Hudson (Mexico City, MEX), Peter Kappeler (Göttingen, GER), Erin Lorraine Kinnally (Davis, USA), Peter Korsten (Groningen, NLD), Jana Krause (Bielefeld, GER), Oliver Krüger (Bielefeld, GER), Esther Langen (Bielefeld, GER), Simone Macri (Rom, ITA), Lindsay Matthews (Münster, GER), Thorben Müller (Bielefeld, GER), Marc Naguib (Wageningen, NLD), Petri Niemelä (Planegg, GER), Giovanni Polverino (Berlin, GER), Helene Richter (Münster, GER), Tim Ruploh (Bielefeld, GER), Susanne Sangenstedt (Münster, GER), Holger Schielzeth (Bielefeld, GER), Katja Siegeler (Gießen, GER), Marek Spinka (Prag, CZE), Barbara Taborsky (Hinterkappeln, SUI), Tobias Tiedtke (Münster, GER), Viktoria Tomczak (Bielefeld, GER), Kees van Oers (Wageningen, NLD), Yvonne Würz (Bielefeld, GER)

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