What we have learned from animals

Collection Editors

Stuart Semple, Anne Robertson



Participating Sections

Submission Deadline


About this collection

Did you know that we can learn things about ourselves (humans) and our behaviour without directly studying ourselves? Scientists have for years studied all kinds of animals, to gain a better insight into their strategies for survival, both alone and together. And we are now finding out that these studies can teach us a lot about us and our world – from ecosystem functioning, to behaviour, to health.

This Collection will therefore examine what we have learned from animals, ranging from microscopic invertebrates to fish and mammals. We will look in particular at what different animals can teach us about human behaviour, about how life has evolved and its diversity, and about how the ecosystem on our planet functions. The following topics will be explored for certain, and maybe more topics will be covered if other scientists also submit a manuscript!

The first article in this collection focusses on the Barbary macaque - a monkey native to North Africa – and looks at what this species has taught us about the importance of being nice to others. Research into the natural behaviour of this primate suggests that, just like humans, they get a positive feeling when they behave in a friendly way to other group members, and that seeing others being nice to each other can be contagious.

The second article looks at research into a small African carnivore, the banded mongoose, which provide new insights into why in some animal species, one individual will help out another without any clear benefits to themself. We see such helping behaviour as normal in human societies, but why some other social animals do this has been a puzzle for evolutionary biologists for a long time. New research provides some answers to this conundrum, and helps us to understand why, for humans, such behaviour is widespread.

The next article explores what studies of a group of freshwater fish known as cichlids have taught us about how species evolve. These fish are found in freshwater lakes and rivers across Africa and South America, and many hundreds of species are thought to have evolved in just a few thousand years, leading to the Great African Lake Victoria being called ‘Darwin’s Dreampond’. Studying these colourful tropical fishes has given new insights into the process of speciation, where new species evolve from a single ancestral species.

The outcome of this process is explored further in the next article, which looks at the diversity of one of the most numerous (but little known) group of land animals, the springtails. These are small soil-dwelling arthropods that are closer to shrimps than insects, and there are upwards of 10,000 per square meter in almost any wood, grassland or garden. We still do not know quite how many species there are in total, but work looking at their DNA has suggested there are many more than previously thought.

The last proposed article in the collection highlights what studying animals can tell us about how ecosystems function. Research into the diverse range of animals living in rivers, and especially those underneath the river bed, has taught us how these complex communities drive and maintain the vital processes which mean, for example, that rivers purify water so that it can be used for drinking.

Are you a scientist working on non-humans and ready to share how and what your research teaches us about our world – from ecosystem functioning, to behaviour, to health? Then submit a manuscript to this Collection!

Would you like to submit to this collection?

For researchers interested in submitting to this Collection, please consult our author guidelines and check that you have all the essentials included before submitting