Every February, Durango Nature Studies holds its annual Winter Social at Carver Brewing Co.
This social allows people who participate in the different realms of DNS to actually meet each other. People can get so busy working that they don’t know who they are working with.
Humans are defined as social animals, but within our species are introverts, extroverts and everything in between. Given a free day, some people can’t wait to have alone time, and others fill a free day with more social activity.
Social behavior is a set of interactions among individuals of the same species. Some animals, such as the polar bear, have almost no interaction with others in their species. Highly social animals, such as wolves or ground squirrels, live together in groups and cooperate to perform tasks.
Scientists agree that social behavior is adaptive, meaning that protecting the group creates a greater chance of survival for the individual. For example, if mule deer gather in a group, the chance of one of them being targeted by a mountain lion decreases greatly, as opposed to a 100 percent chance if a deer was on its own.
Social behavior can be explained as adaptive, but altruistic behavior is more difficult to grasp. An altruistic act increases the welfare of another individual at the potential cost to the one that performs the act.
For humans, the effects of altruism are one of the most enjoyable parts of social behavior. When scientists examine altruism in animals, they find that reciprocity is involved. Studies of bats, for example, have shown that they tend to share their food with those most likely to reciprocate in the future. Ultimately, the long-term benefits of altruism outweigh the immediate costs.
Animals such as prairie dogs and ground squirrels take great risks for their colonies. One intrepid individual will warn the others of a hawk overhead by calling attention to itself and allowing the others to take cover. This behavior goes against instinctual survival and is a very strong demonstration of natural selection that favors altruism.
Eusocial animals are at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to putting the group over the individual. Eusocial species, such as ants, bees and termites, all have specific jobs to protect the only reproducers in the colony.
These species experience only indirect survival, as they have no chance of reproducing independently. An ecological explanation is that if there are a large number of offspring, the relatedness of the individuals creates greater survival than if they reproduced independently. For euscial species, social behavior is the means to survival.
So, whether you are a solitary individual or border on eusocial behavior, the Durango Nature Studies’ Winter Social is open to all. If you lean toward the first group, you may drink a beer, grab some material and move on. If you lean toward the other end of the spectrum, stay for a while and enjoy the conversation.
Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-9244.