Social Ecology of Horses

  • Konstanze Krueger

Horses (Equidae ) are believed to clearly demonstrate the links between ecology and social organization. Their social cognitive abilities enable them to succeed in many different environments, including those provided for them by humans, or the ones domestic horses encounter when escaping from their human care takers. Living in groups takes different shapes in equids. Their aggregation and group cohesion can be explained by Hamilton’s selfish herd theory. However, when an individual joins and to which group it joins appears to be an active individual decision depending on predation pressure, intra group harassment and resource availability. The latest research concerning the social knowledge horses display in eavesdropping experiments affirms the need for an extension of simple herd concepts in horses for a cognitive component. Horses obviously realize the social composition of their group and determine their own position in it. The horses exceedingly flexible social behavior demands for explanations about the cognitive mechanisms, which allow them to make individual decisions. “Ecology conditions like those that favour the evolution of open behavioural programs sometimes also favour the evolution of the beginnings of consciousness, by favouring conscious choice. Or in other words, consciousness originates with the choice that are left open by open behavioural programs.” Popper (1977)


Dominance Hierarchy Domestic Horse Behav Ecol Wild Horse Feral Horse 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Konstanze Krueger
    • 1
  1. 1.Lehrstuhl för Biologie 1Universität RegensburgGermany

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