John Alcock provides a detailed approach to the topic of Animal Behaviour. This is a well illustrated book which clearly and concisely discusses this wide subject in depth. Beginning with the evolution of behaviour in animals Alcock then goes on to describe a number of behaviours and explains why they occur. This fascinating book gives a wide range of examples to exemplify each point, these examples also incorporate human behaviour. As a student in this field I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Animal behaviour. This book would be suitable for general public upto post graduate students.
There's benefit in starting this book at the final chapter. After all, we consider humans the most important member of the animal kingdom. A quick perusal of Chapter 15, "The Evolution of Human Behavior", introduces you to many issues within that topic. The question that must arise, is "how did we get to be that way?". To answer that question, simply turn to page 1 and start reading. The rewards gained by following John Alcock's presentation are beyond measure. He's an outstanding researcher and analyst. His writing demonstrates the importance of understanding why this book is necessary for both professional and novice. The behavioural traits he explains show the workings of evolution. We are but one of the products of that process. Stating that Darwin's concept of evolution was a "blockbuster" of an idea, he argues it illuminates everything once you have the courage to look. He uses the concept of "proximate" and "ultimate" causes in analysing traits and deriving their origins. What we see in nature are the "proximate" causes of behaviour - how do a moth's muscles make the wings move in a particular way? The "ultimate" cause is what, if anything is gained by the action or behaviour? Answering the second question leads to a probable explanation of how evolution brought the feature about. Traits are the result of a long series of tiny steps leading to what is seen today. Alcock demonstrates that there are many influences affecting the course of evolution. Alcock presents an array of examples neatly arranged in groupings such as environmental impact, heredity, mating and feeding. How does the ungainly seaslug discern predator approach and how does it escape? Why do so many male birds sing, and so few females? How do night-flying moths evade the sonar-equipped bat? Why is the Monarch butterfly so brilliant in colour while other butterflies and moths seem drab and muted? How do we recognize faces? The underlying question in each example is whether the observed property is a beneficial adaptation. Every trait is subject to a balance of "benefits" and "costs" - camouflage to hide from predators may also cloak you from a possible mate. Alcock examines this balance for many species, noting that some assessments remain in dispute. Testing alternative hypotheses is a major sub-theme of this book. Considering "cost/benefit" of human behaviours is only now being undertaken, but is just as applicable to us as to other animals. What are the benefits of a social environment such as ours? What are the costs involved in maintaining this type of existence? One "cost/benefit" analysis is the evolution of "helpers". Humans long believed the rest of the animal world never exhibited altruism. Yet, now it's known that "assistance to others" can range from adoption of offspring to a variety of reciprocal trade-offs of many types across many species. Although this book is designed as a classroom text, the writing style, illustrative material and references make it a worthy purchase for anyone. At first glance the cost of this book seems staggering. Looking at the bibliography, however, suggests you could spend this figure many times over in detailed studies. Alcock presents the work of many researchers, summarising it effectively. Further examination of a single topic is easier with the "head start" Alcock offers in many topics. The value of this book is inestimable and Alcock's frequent upgrades ensure you will be kept abreast of recent findings. With luck and effort, you might even contribute some of your own. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]