Tim Caro (c. 1952 - ) is an evolutionary ecologist known for his work on conservation biology, animal behaviour, anti-predator defences in animals, and especially the function of zebra stripes. He is the author of several textbooks on evolutionary ecology.
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 is a professor of wildlife biology at University of California Davis, in the departments of population biology and wildlife and fish conservation biology. 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.
Caro's 2005 book Antipredator defenses in birds and mammals has been cited in scientific papers over 1150 times. His paper "Interspecific killing among mammalian carnivores" has been cited over 690 times, while his book Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains: group living in an asocial species has been cited over 660 times. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers, books, and chapters.
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. 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", and called 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". 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. 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." Michael Lemonick, writing in The New Yorker echoed the just-so-story theme.