Tim Caro

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Timothy M. Caro (born 1951) is a British evolutionary ecologist known for his work on conservation biology, animal behaviour, anti-predator defences in animals, and the function of zebra stripes. He is the author of several textbooks on these subjects.



Caro was born in 1951 to artists Anthony Caro and Sheila Girling. [1] [2] Caro gained his bachelor's degree in zoology at Cambridge University in 1973, and his doctorate in psychology at the University of St Andrews in 1979. He was a professor of wildlife biology at University of California, Davis, in the departments of population biology and wildlife and fish conservation biology. He is currently a professor of biology at the University of Bristol. He has studied the colour polymorphism of coconut crabs, the conservation of fragments of forest, and the function of coloration in mammals, especially zebra stripes. [3] [4] [5]

How the zebra got its stripes

Caro investigated some 18 hypotheses to explain why zebras are striped, excluding all but one of them through experimental studies. Three Zebras Drinking.jpg
Caro investigated some 18 hypotheses to explain why zebras are striped, excluding all but one of them through experimental studies.

Caro's team found evidence that zebra stripes help to reduce biting by tabanid flies, but no reliable support for traditionally held hypotheses about the function of zebra stripes including camouflage, predator avoidance, heat management, or social interaction. [6] He evaluated 18 different proposed explanations for the stripes, devising and carrying out quantitative tests to compare them. The evolutionary ecologist Tim Birkhead, writing in the Times Higher Education, praised Caro's 2006 book Zebra Stripes as "an exemplary study", calling it "one long argument", a phrase used by Darwin of his On the Origin of Species , summarizing it as "in essence a 300-page scientific paper". [7] Karin Brulliard, writing in The Washington Post under the headline "To figure out why the zebra got its stripes, this researcher dressed up like one", portrays Caro in a zebra costume "not used in his fieldwork", but also in a tailor-made striped suit in the Tanzanian bush, as well as in pelts of zebra and the unstriped wildebeest. The newspaper reports Caro as "absolutely convinced" that he has found the right explanation. [8] Matthew Cobb, writing in New Scientist , recalls Rudyard Kipling's children's book, Just So Stories , in which the zebra got his stripes by standing half-in, half-out of the shadows "with the slippery-slidy shadows of the trees" on his body. Cobb calls Zebra Stripes a marvellous book and predicts it will encourage a generation to "tackle evolutionary biology's remaining enigmas, with or without the help of Kipling." [9] Michael Lemonick, writing in The New Yorker echoed the just-so-story theme. [10]


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  1. Kerlin, Kat (2016-12-14). "Biologist earns his 'Zebra Stripes' with new book". University of California. Retrieved 2022-05-23.
  2. Lynton, Norbert (2013-10-24). "Sir Anthony Caro obituary". The Guardian . Retrieved 2022-05-23.
  3. "Tim Caro". University of California Davis. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  4. "Tim Caro Profile". University of California Davis. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  5. "Dr. Tim Caro: Unraveling the Mysteries of Animal Coloration and Why Zebras Have Stripes". People Behind the Science Podcast. 7 June 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  6. Caro, Tim; Izzo, Amanda; Reiner, Robert C.; Walker, Hannah; Stankowich, Theodore (2014). "The function of zebra stripes". Nature Communications. 5: 3535. Bibcode:2014NatCo...5.3535C. doi: 10.1038/ncomms4535 . PMID   24691390.
  7. Birkhead, Tim (8 December 2016). "Zebra Stripes, by Tim Caro". Times Higher Education .
  8. Brulliard, Karin (4 January 2017). "To figure out why the zebra got its stripes, this researcher dressed up like one". The Washington Post .
  9. Cobb, Matthew. "How did the zebra get its stripes?". New Scientist .
  10. Lemonick, Michael (11 April 2014). "How Zebras Got Their Stripes". The New Yorker .