50 Years of International Ethological Conferences

The International Ethological Conference was born just after WWII when the organizers and participants wanted to resume the science they loved and renew the friendships they had built before the War.  In July 1949 the Association for the Study of Animal Behavior and the Society for Experimental Biology organized a Symposium on “Physiological Mechanisms in Animal Behaviour.” This meeting brought to Cambridge most of the key players in animal behavior at the time, such as Niko Tinbergen, Gerard Baerends (Netherlands), Konrad Lorenz (Austria), William Thorpe, J.Z. Young (UK), Erich von Holst, Otto Koehler (Germany), Paul Weiss, and Karl Lashley (USA), an international group representing both sides of the recent conflict in Europe.

In the following year, von Holst invited some colleagues and their students to his lab in Wilhelmshaven for 10 days (Thorpe 1979).  It was a small informal group, with no proceedings where “only half-baked ideas” were discussed (Nisbett 1976).  The meeting was such a success that the group planned the first International Ethological Conference which was held at Buldern in 1952, a castle in Westfalia and the site of Konrad Lorenz’s first institute  (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1985).  The second IEC was held in Oxford in 1953 with about 80 participants (Dewsbury 1989) and it has been held at regular two-year intervals since then.   “The early fifties were such a marvelous time to be an ethologist.  The science was blossoming and practically everything one touched was new.  Ethological meetings were filled with intense discussion…” (Hinde 1985)

From the first, the tradition of the IEC has been to hold an informal, international, 10-day conference where a great diversity of topics and ideas could be discussed.  The early meetings were small, by invitation only, with a single session “so that nobody need miss anything” and they often went on late into the evening (Manning 1985).  The two-way translation was provided by Lorenz, Tinbergen, and Baerends.  Speakers would stop every 10 minutes or so to have a section translated, a mammoth task for the most senior researchers in the field (who, as a result, could not miss a single session).  In fact, the meeting was so exhausting for the participants that a day off was provided mid-way through, a “merciful tradition” (Manning 1985) that continues to this day.  Although small meetings certainly have their advantages, by the late ’70s many felt that a meeting by invitation only was no longer appropriate (Marler 1985) and so it was abandoned at the 1983 meeting in Brisbane.  Although the IEC is now massively larger, requiring many concurrent sessions, it retains much of its earlier character.  The IEC encourages international participation while retaining its European roots with alternate meetings held in Europe and abroad; the ICE (International Council of Ethologists which plans future IEC meetings) remains informal; the long format of the meeting still provides an important means of developing friendships and collaborations; the mid-conference field trips are still an important element; and all aspects of animal behavior are still considered and discussed.

In its 50th year, the IEC returns to Germany where its initial conference was held, and to one of the centers for animal behavior research over the past 50 years.  Like its predecessors, this Conference will emphasize integrative approaches to ethology: the adaptiveness of behavior as well as how behavior evolved, developed, and is controlled.

The ICE would like to thank Raimund Apfelbach and the Tübingen Committee for their hard work and organizational skills in sponsoring the 2001 International Ethological Conference.

H. Jane Brockmann

Secretary General, ICE


Bateson, P.P.G. and P.H. Klopfer. 1989.  Preface to Whither Ethology.  Perspectives in Ethology 8: v-viii.

Dewsbury, D.A. 1989. A brief history of the study of animal behavior in North America.  Perspectives  in Ethology.  8: 85-122.

Dewsbury, D.A. 1995.  Americans in Europe: the role of travel in the spread of European ethology after World War II.  Anim. Behav. 49:1649-1663.

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. 1985. “Fishy, fishy, fishy” Autobiographical sketches. In: D.A. Dewsbury (ed.)  Leaders in the Study of Animal Behavior.  Autobiographical Perspectives. Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg PA.  pp. 69-91.

Frisch, K. von. 1967.  A Biologist Remembers.  Pergamon Press.

Hinde, R.A. 1989.  Ethology in relation to other disciplines. In: D.A. Dewsbury (ed.) Leaders in the Study of Animal Behavior.  Autobiographical Perspectives. Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg PA.  pp. 193-203.

Jaynes, J. 1969.  The historical origins of ‘ethology’ and ‘comparative psychology’.  Anim. Behav. 601-606.

Klopfer, P.H. 1999.  Politics and People in Ethology.  Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg, PA.

Manning, A. 1989.  The ontogeny of an ethologist. In: D.A. Dewsbury (ed.) Leaders in the Study of Animal Behavior.  Autobiographical Perspectives. Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg PA.  pp. 289-313.

Marler, P. 1989.  Hark ye to the birds: autobiographical marginalia. In: D.A. Dewsbury (ed.) Leaders in the Study of Animal Behavior. Autobiographical Perspectives. Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg PA.  pp. 315-345.

Nisbett, A. 1976.  Konrad Lorenz.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Podos, J. 1994.  Early perspectives on the evolution of behavior: Charles Otis Whitman and Oskar Heinroth.  Ethology, Ecology, and Evolution 6: 467-480.

Thorpe, W.H. 1979.  The Origins and Rise of Ethology.  The science of the natural behaviour of animals.  Praeger Scientific.

Tinbergen, N. 1989.  Watching and wondering. In: D.A. Dewsbury (ed.) Leaders in the Study of Animal Behavior.  Autobiographical Perspectives. Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg PA.  pp. 431-463.

International Ethological Conferences

1952  Buldern, West Germany             I

1953  Oxford, UK                                II

1955  Gronigen, Netherlands            III

1957  Freiberg, Germany                  IV

1959  Cambridge, UK                        V

1961  Stamberg, Germany               VI

1963  The Hague, Netherlands        VII

1965  Zurich, Switzerland                VIII

1967  Stockholm, Sweden                  X    (IX is missing)

1969  Rennes, France                        XI

1971  Edinburgh, Scotland               XII

1973  Washington DC, USA              XIII

1975  Parma, Italy                            XIV

1977  Bielefeld, Germany                  XV

1979  Vancouver, Canada                XVI

1981  Oxford, UK                             XVII

1983  Brisbane, Australia                XVIII

1985  Toulouse, France                    XIX

1987  Madison, USA                          XX

1989  Utrecht, Netherlands               XXI

1991  Kyoto, Japan                           XXII

1993  Torrelominos, Spain               XXIII

1995  Honolulu, USA                       XXIV

1997  Vienna, Austria                       XXV

1999  Bangalore, India                    XXVI

2001  Tubingen, Germany              XXVII

2003  Florianopolis, Brazil              XXVIII

2005  Budapest, Hungary                XXIX

2007  Halifax, Canada                      XXX

2009  Rennes, France                      XXXI

2011 Bloomington, USA                 XXXII

2013 Newcastle, UK                       XXXIII

2015 Cairns, Australia                    XXXIV

2017 Estoril, Portugal                    XXXV

2019 Chicago, US                         XXXVI

2023 Bielefeld, Germany              XXXVII

Secretaries General

Niko Tinbergen                  1953- ??

Gerard Baerends               19??-1968

Aubrey Manning               1968-1975

Peter Marler                      1975-1981

Marie-Claire Busnel           1981-1987

Glenn McBride                   1987-1991

Lee Drickamer                    1991-1995

Marian Dawkins                 1995-1999

Jane Brockman                   1999-2003

Michael Taborsky                 2003-2007

Judy  Stamps                        2007-2011

Gunilla Rosenqvist                2011-2015

Barbara König                       2015- 2019/CoVid19 interim: 2019 – 2023

Raghavendra Gadagkar         2023-

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