Animal Behavior


“It is quite a thrill to discover that the birds you are studying are not simply specimens of the species Larus argentatus but that they are personal acquaintances…individuals that you know personally. Somehow, you feel, you are at home, you are taking part in their lives, and their adventure becomes part of your own life.”   Niko Tinbergen – The Herring Gull’s World (1953)

Welcome to the exciting and wondrous world of animal behavior!

This course is an introduction to the scientific exploration of animal behavior. We will study animals’ responses by investigating their foundations in natural selection,learning and cultural transmission. The goals of this course are to provide an overview of the field, to observe behaviors ourselves, and to connect this to your own teaching. Therefore, this course has three objectives:
1. Provide an introduction to the history, basic concepts, theories, methods and future directions that make up the modern science of animal behavior.
2. Offer the opportunity to watch animals in the wild with a scientist’s eyes and mind by thinking about possible questions and answers for the behaviors.
3. Develop approaches and tools to teach aspects of animal behavior in your classes.

Given these objectives, we will spend time in lectures, discussions, and workshops, but also outside, observing a range of animals. Finally, there will be time for you to work on developing teaching tools and materials for your own classes. Lectures will explore the development of the field of animal behavior and its theoretical and methodological underpinnings. We will also talk a bit about the people behind the science, such as Niko Tinbergen, one of the ‘fathers’ of animal behavior and whose quote opens the syllabus. We will also have time to discuss recent developments (do animals have culture, or can they count?), controversial topics (are pit bulls really all dangerous, and if so, why?) and scientific discoveries hot off the press. Finally, a few hours will be allocated for videos on animal behavior related topics.

The College of the Atlantic is located in an all-around amazing area, which offers not only stunning scenery but also amazing opportunities to watch animals to their day-to-day activities in their environments. So we will just step outside our building and observer gulls and crows, or we may go down to the shoreline to watch barnacles or pillbugs, or have a trip out into the bay to observe seals or porpoises. The goal is to observe a range of different species in different environments to get a feel for what it implies to study behavior in the wild.There is necessarily some flexibility as to how exactly these parts will be scheduled. Partially, it depends on your interests, previous knowledge and experiences. For example, if there is a particular topic or aspect you are interested in, we can spend more time on it or add a discussion to the schedule. Our time outside will naturally depend on the weather and what animals are around. Consider the schedule below a work in progress, it is open for alterations and additions based on your interests, and it remains flexible to allow for weather and unforeseen opportunities.

We will use the following textbook: Dugatkin, A. 2009. Principles of Animal Behavior. 2nd edition. WW Norton. This book is available as hard-cover (ISBN 978-0-393-93169-3; $92) or soft-cover (ISBN 978-0-393-93441-0; $76).
I have used this book for several years in an undergraduate course in animal behavior and students really enjoyed reading it. Not only is it written by one of the leading experts in the field, it is also written in a colloquial, easily understandable style, covers a range of topics in a well-integrated manner, and is, in my view, the best illustrated animal behavior textbook.

You don’t have to have read the book before the course, but it will be a good idea to leaf through it and get acquainted with the range of topics and questions.

If you are looking for an alternative to Dugatkin’s book, John Alcock’s Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach (2009. Sinauer. ISBN 978-0878932252; $74) is the classic animal behavior textbook, now in its 9th edition. It covers similar material, but has a decidedly adaptationist focus. Either book will be useful for the course and serve as a valuable resource for your future teaching, research and interest.

Aside from learning about animal behavior, I also want you to come away from this course with something tangible for your own teaching. During the course, you will develop a teaching unit that focuses on, or is related to, one of the aspects of animal behavior discussed during the course. It could be a regular lecture-type presentation, a workshop activity, a discussion forum, a video, a game, … whatever suits your teaching style. Ideally, the unit would be targeted to the level you cover animal behavior in, but it should be transferable to other ages. We will then share the units at the end of the course.

I hope this syllabus gives you an initial impression of what Animal Behavior will be like. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns,suggestions or would like more information:  I am very much looking forward to meeting you in July 2013 at COA!

Preliminary schedule:

Sunday,    July 14     Meet & Greet

Monday,   July 15   What is animal behavior? Questions,foundations and evolution
                                      How do you measure animal behavior?

Tuesday,  July 16    Learning and cultural transmission
                                      Field excursion Video

Wednesday July 17   Sexual selection, kinship and cooperation
                                       Work on teaching unit Video

Thursday, July 18    Foraging and predation Field excursion Video

Friday,  July 19       Communication Presentations: teaching units

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