What this blog is about
By Alexander V. Georgiev
We are all to varying degrees fascinated by animals and what they do. Understanding why they do it is what got me into academia and what has kept me going though a number of years doing a Biology BSc degree at Sofia University in Bulgaria, through 7 years of grad school for my PhD in Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, and, more recently, through postdocs at University of Chicago and now at Northwestern University. Over the past 10 or so years, I have studied the behaviour and ecology of bonobos in the DRC, chimpanzees in Uganda and rhesus macaques in Puerto Rico. In my current position at the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern I am working with a long-term dataset on human life-history variation from the Philippines. Humans are animals, after all.
Being stuck in the ‘academic bubble’, rushing from one deadline to the next, while at he same time trying to catch up on all the papers that are being published on daily basis in a vast number of journals and are somehow relevant to one’s own research can be a 24/7 affair. I realised I have grown a little out of touch with my initial pure excited fascination about discoveries in animal behaviour. Instead, whenever I now come across a new publication I quickly get absorbed into the technical details – trying to learn what, how and why the other researchers did – both to be able to evaluate their findings and conclusions but also to learn how I can improve my own work. So I decided I need to start a blog as a more formal motivation to revisit my non-deadline-motivated excitement about behavioural ecology and also as a way to convey some of the joys of the scientific method to other people.
This blog is about cutting through the jargon and technical details to appreciate some of the discoveries made by students and established researchers in the field of behavioural ecology (defined loosely) on an almost daily basis around the world. Not all ‘discoveries’ that appear in the peer-reviewed literature are headline-grabbing news. Science usually advances in small, cautious steps. But each new publication starts with a question. It starts because someone was curious enough to go to the effort of launching the study in the first place. These small victories for knowledge often go unreported in the popular media and most people who are curious about animal behaviour do not read peer-reviewed journals. Mostly because such papers can be too dense for a non-specialist to follow but often also because many such papers are very expensive to access if you don’t have a university library affiliation (although more and more of the peer-reviewed literature is becoming freely available on the internet, a significant proportion still is not).
I will try to post regular updates about some of the coolest new stories (in my very subjective opinion) that I find in the peer-reviewed literature. I will aim to be succinct in highlighting key findings and how they advance our existing understanding of behaviour, ecology and evolution. I will also provide additional links so you can find out more about the study species, the researchers, or related topics.
The scope of this blog would be as wide as my research interests. Both taxonomically (i.e. species covered) and thematically (i.e. questions studied). Primates may well end up being slightly over-sampled given my background but I will definitely not shy away from writing about studies of … say, water striders (a type of visually unremarkable insect), simply on the basis that they are not cuddly enough and don’t use tools, or engage in cooperative hunting and border patrols.