Ecology, social behavior, and conservation in zebras

Daniel Ian Rubenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Most of African's wildlife lives on landscapes inhabited by people. Nowhere is this more evident than on grasslands and savannas of arid areas where conflict between wildlife and livestock has always been common. In the past, economic development on these landscapes has eclipsed conservation, but in today's Africa, where pastoral herders and small-scale landholders seek enhanced lifestyles, understanding the links between behavior and ecology suggests that the demise of wildlife is not inevitable. Behavioral ecology offers insights into how features of the environment shape behavior. By unraveling the rules for particular species in particular environmental circumstances, it is possible to intervene and adjust peoples' behavior so that landscapes can be modified in ways that allow species to sustain themselves while improving human welfare. In this chapter I examine the socioecology of two zebra species-one thriving, the other verging on extinction-and show how resiliency emerges from understanding the link between a species' ecology and its behavior, demography, and population dynamics. I show that by working with large-scale commercial livestock ranchers, small-scale ranchers, and pastoral communities to apply basic behavioral ecological principles in context specific ways, balancing conservation and development is possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-258
Number of pages28
JournalAdvances in the Study of Behavior
Issue numberC
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Conservation
  • Grevy's zebras
  • Pastoral communities
  • Plains zebras
  • Social behavior
  • Sociality
  • Sustainable development


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