Animal behavior

February 1, 2013

A mother gelada and her daughter grooming in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. A mother gelada and her daughter grooming in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia.

Have you ever wondered how elephants communicate with each other and what it means to other elephants?

How about the way in which dogs and humans interact when they play? Or perhaps you’re more interested in how other animals, like monkeys and birds, identify and locate their food?

These are important questions to Francine Dolins. She wants to share her interests, so the assistant professor of psychology helped organize an Animal Behavior Speaker Series at University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“Ever since I’ve arrived here, I wanted to do this because I thought it was sort of a natural connection on our campus with such strong psychology, biology and ecology programs,” said Dolins, who studies spatial cognitive abilities of captive chimpanzees, as well as wild monkeys and lemurs.

The speaker series kicks off Friday, Feb. 8, with the first of seven distinguished scientists to visit campus. Peter Wrege, of Cornell University, will discuss “Hidden Beasts – Listening to the voices of Africa’s forest elephants.”

“He’s a very distinguished scholar and behavioral ecologist who studied communication in birds and then shifted to studying acoustic communication in elephants,” Dolins said. “I tried to mix and match different species and different areas of research. I also tried to choose some people who have conservation interests, so they’re going be talking about basic science and how that relates to conservation issues.”

Dolins was especially pleased with the fact that all seven scientists she contacted about participating in the speaker series were quick to accept the invitation. The speaker series also is being offered to UM-Dearborn students as an independent study.

The intent is to help students interested in science-related careers network with some of the nation’s brightest scholars.

“They can learn a lot from these distinguished scientists,” Dolins said.

Dolins already has heard positive feedback from the campus community about the speaker series, and it has yet to kick off.

“The more that we learn about other creatures on Earth, the more we learn about ourselves, too,” she said. “We can’t disconnect ourselves from the common ancestors we have with other species. We need to learn more about these species and hopefully, in the process, keep them from going extinct.”

Jerold Hale, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (CASL), plans to attend the speaker series events because of a personal curiosity with animal behaviors.

“Because of my research on nonverbal behaviors and communication, I have a natural curiosity about the issues this series explores,” Hale said. “The series also represents the essence of interdisciplinary research and collaboration. Dr. Dolins has put together a fascinating speaker series that will explore the intersections of natural and behavioral sciences.”

CASL, the Behavioral Sciences and Natural Sciences departments, as well as the Integrated Learning Program will sponsor the speaker series. Dolins credits Hale,  Marilee Benore, Nancy Wrobel, Don Bord and Tiffany Marra for their help in organizing the series.

Here’s a list of the Animal Behavior Speaker Series events:

  • February 8: Peter Wrege, Cornell University – “Hidden Beasts – Listening to the voice of Africa’s forest elephants”
  • February 15: Robert Mitchell, Eastern Kentucky University – “Adventures with dog-human play behavior”
  • February 22: Paul Garber, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – “Foraging Strategies and Spatial Memory in New World Primates: Advantages of not always taking the path most traveled”
  • March 8: Louis Lefebvre, McGill University – “Feeding innovations in birds and their implications for ecology, evolution and neuroscience”
  • March 22: Kay Holekamp, Michigan State University – Evolution & mediation of sex-role reversed traits in hyenas”
  • March 27: Bill Hopkins, Georgia State University – Left, Right, Hand and Brain: Evolution of Hemispheric Specialization in Primates”
  • April 3: Jacinta Beehner and Thore Bergman, UM-Ann Arbor – “Minimizing reproductive loss: Female counterstrategies to infanticide in a wild primate”

* All events will be held from 3:30-5 p.m. in 1030 CASL, with a reception afterward on the fourth floor of the CASL Building.

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