About EthoSearch

Origins of EthoSearch

Lincoln Park Zoo is committed to conducting and supporting rigorous scientific research in zoos and aquariums to enhance our understanding of conservation issues and support animal welfare. Ethology, or the study of animal behavior, is an area to which Lincoln Park Zoo is especially committed.


Systematic behavioral data collection at zoological institutions is growing in relevance and importance. Zoo and aquarium professionals recognize that careful and systematic monitoring of behavior can serve as an important gauge of animal wellbeing. Additionally, zoological institutions are now routinely collaborating on multi-institutional behavioral research projects that address key issues of management, conservation, and basic biology. Ethograms are the fundamental backbone of behavioral research. They are logically compiled catalogues, or dictionaries, of a species' behavioral repertoire that underlie any rigorous quantitative study of behavior. That repertoire can be described at different levels of detail and completeness. For example, a study of neonatal behavior and parental care might require defining components of nursing that would not be relevant to a behavioral study of mate choice in the same species. An ethogram specifies the "units" of data, the acts, events and relationships that are recorded during a rigorous, quantitative study of behavior.


However, because each research project typically develops an ethogram focused on its specific hypotheses or questions, comparisons between ethograms (projects, zoological institutions) is often difficult. Thus, the need for the establishment of taxon-specific ethograms, with mutually-agreed upon terminology and definition, is clear. Standard formats and/or cross-linking allows ethograms for the same species to be synthesized or compared. A long-term, curated database of these resources further supports cross-institutional collaboration.


EthoSearch was created to further research in this critical field and address some of these critical needs. In partnership with SUNY Binghamton, and in collaboration with Ethosource, the development of EthoSearch makes a wide range of scientifically "vetted" ethograms broadly accessible to the larger scientific, zoo and aquarium, and educational communities. Researchers can create and submit new ethograms for incorporation into the database; specific behaviors can be documented through associated rich media (e.g., digital images, video) and behaviors can be coded for comparisons with other ethograms. Students and educators can use either simplified ethograms (Educator Track) or complex ethograms (Research Track) and sophisticated search engines allow comparison of ethograms and behaviors.

Implications for Behavioral Research

EthoSearch will serve as a much needed tool to facilitate robust ethological research. The site will:


  • Support researcher efforts in comparing and contrasting species specific ethograms, supporting stronger standardization in data collection
  • Allow for comparison of ethograms between different species to further studies in this area
  • Serve as a repository for researchers to upload new ethograms for use by colleagues
  • Enable database searching according to:
    • Species/taxon
    • Specific Behavior
    • Behavioral Categories or Types of Behavior

Project Participants and Supporters

Lincoln Park Zoo scientists (see lpzoo.org) conduct a wide range of applied and basic behavioral research. The zoo contributed significant resources and zoo staff led the development of EthoSearch. The zoo is committed to maintaining and updating the database into the future.


SUNY Binghamton was a partner in the design and development of EthoSearch. SUNY contributed staff time and staff assisted with design, reviewed and entered data, and designed the sophisticated search engine.


The EthoSource Advisory Board is a group of behavioral scientists committed to developing a standard framework for ethograms and a comprehensive, searchable database of ethograms. The board provided key input into the final database design and capabilities of the search engine.


The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provided essential support to the development of EthoSearch through a National Leadership Grant (LG-24-07-0056-07)).


Other Links

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is dedicated to connecting people with nature by providing a free, family-oriented wildlife experience in the heart of Chicago, and by exhibiting leadership and advancing the highest quality of animal care, education, science and conservation.

Binghamton University

In a little over 60 years, Binghamton University has built a reputation as a world-class institution that combines a broadly interdisciplinary, international education with one of the most vibrant research programs in the nation.