ANIMAL BEHAVIOR (BIOL-30800):   Spring 2014
Lectures: TR 10:50-12:05 p.m., CNS 119
Lab:  1-3:50 p.m., CNS 212

Instructor: Bruce P. Smith
Office:  166 CNS
Lab: 171 CNS
Phone: 274-3971
Office Hours: Thursday 1:00 - 3:00 pm, or by appointment, or by appointment
Lecture Schedule Laboratory Schedule
Lab Photos

Text: Alcock, J. 2009.  Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach, 9th edition.  Sinauer Associates, Inc., Southerland, MA


Animal Behavior is inherently fascinating: insects in which males offer females gifts during courtship, birds in which parents carefully feed and defend their nestlings, predatory dogs and wolves who use cooperative hunting to tackle larger prey, fish who generate electrical currents to use in navigation and communication with other fish, and ground-dwelling rats that have evolved intricate social structures, complete with “queens” and “kings”.  It is natural to ask “how did this develop?” and  “why do they do it?” when observing such behaviors.  The study of Animal Behavior entails describing such behaviors and then trying to elucidate the reasons that these behaviors have developed.  There can be proximate (or immediate) causes of behavior, and there are ultimate (or evolutionary) bases for behavior as well.

Animal Behavior intersects with many other biological disciplines: many behaviors can be directly related to the organism’s environmental conditions (or ecology), there is a neurophysiological basis of behavior, and it is essential to consider genetics when trying to decipher the how and why of social evolution in insects.  Foremost, evolutionary theory is essential to understanding the ultimate reason that these behaviors exist.

THIS COURSE: structure and goals

Five of our six departmental learning objectives are addressed in this course:

1) demonstrate an understanding of fundamental concepts and principles in biology.

3) articulate connections among biological concepts at various levels (e.g. molecular, cellular, organismal, ecological) as well as between biology and other natural sciences.          

4) critically analyze biological information, including analysis of the effectiveness of methods, the meaning of observational and experimental data, and the appropriateness of conclusions.

5) Carry out scientific investigations both as part of a team and independently to answer questions about the natural world.

6) effectively communicate scientific works in both oral and written form.

concepts students will be able to address at these three levels after taking this course:

I will try to emphasize concepts, processes, and interpretation; my goal is for you to develop reasoning and critical thinking skills - and a better understanding of  Biology.  For the most part, I will not be giving you “cookbook” exercises to do in lab: I will try to involve you in designing the experiments. In most labs I will start by introducing a behavioral phenomenon or a biological system, and then I will suggest questions or hypotheses.  After preliminary observations, the class will break into groups and discuss how to approach testing the hypotheses.  The class will then get back together for a general discussion to agree on questions and methods.  I will guide you towards workable methods.  The class will conduct the experiments, then we will briefly discuss results and share data.  Written laboratory reports are done individually.


Standard lecture tests focus on fundamental knowledge within the field of Animal Behavior (goal 1), connections among biological concepts at various levels (goal 3), and ability to critically analyze biological information (goal 4).  Designing and conducting experiments in the laboratory (goals 4 & 5) is collaborative experiential learning, involving initiative and independence in scientific inquiry.  The laboratory reports and poster presentation require students to read and interpret the primary scientific literature (goal 4), and fosters communication skills through writing (goal 6) and visual presentations of scientific research.



 Test 1 
Test 2 17.5%
lab reports 35%
Final Exam 20%

Poster Presentation



There will be two term tests based on lecture material and assigned readings; these tests are not cumulative.  Test questions require written answers ranging from a paragraph in length to a short essay, depending on the question’s value.  Some will be factual questions, some will be interpretation questions.  The final exam includes all material in the course, and will be in similar format.


The aim in the laboratory is to develop observational skills and to learn methods for describing behavior, and to practice designing and conducting behavioral experiments. Early laboratory sessions are designed for developing skills and techniques used in future laboratory sessions.  In later sessions, the first part of each laboratory will consist of observations and discussion, and the students will participate in the design and execution of experiments.  The grade for the laboratory component will be based upon reports, typically due one week later.  Assignments must be in Word document format, and submitted on Sakai (through Assignments) by the deadline.  It is your responsibility to verify that the file has been uploaded and is correct (i.e., after posting your assignment, download the file and open it).  Please note that while you collaborate on conducting experiments and share data with the other students in your group, your reports are written individually - and that should be apparent to me.  Also note: assignments will be evaluated by Turnitin for potential plagiarism.


This will be a presentation based upon a primary research article on some aspect of Animal Behavior, from a peer-reviewed journal, having been published within the past 5 years.  You cannot use review papers, perspectives, notes, briefs, short communications, etc.  Possible journals include (but are not limited to) Animal Behaviour, Behaviour, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Insect Behavior, the Behavior section of Canadian Journal of Zoology, or a behavioral ecology paper from an ecological journal (Oikos, Oecologia, Animal Ecology, or Ecology). To avoid the obvious overlap between Psychology (human behavior) and Animal Behavior, your paper must be based on non-human animals.  Look for papers that are of reasonable length and complexity - if the paper is too short and simple or too long and complex, then it could adversely affect your presentation. A good indicator is that there is a combined total of at least 4 figures/tables in the paper.  Students cannot choose a paper already selected by another student.  Please note college policy that material submitted for grades in one course cannot be submitted for credit in another course - your presentation cannot be based on an article used in another class. You can choose a paper that interests you, and I will check whether it is suitable (i.e., not a review article, and neither too simple nor too complex).  I need to receive a copy of the paper by 4:00 pm one week before presentation, so that I can approve it – please send a .pdf copy of the paper by email.  The poster must be made in Powerpoint, and must be submitted to Sakai (through Assignments) at least 24 hrs before this lab (i.e., by 1:00 pm), as I need to post them on a website for viewing the day of the presentation.  If you do not send your poster to me 24 hours in advance then there is a 50% penalty, and a zero grade is awarded if the poster cannot be posted before presentation time.


1. Attendance

The Ithaca College Attendance Policy states that students are expected to attend classes and that they are responsible for all material even when absent.  Conspicuous unexplained absence (i.e., more than 10% of the classes) may result in lower grade, or dismissal from class.  Acceptable reasons for absence include 1) student illness, requiring the student to be bed-ridden; 2) death or serious illness in the immediate family; 3) appearance in court; 4) religious holidays.  Note that you MUST have written documentation for your reason for absence (e.g., note from doctor, religious leader, etc.).


An exam missed during an unexcused absence (i.e. oversleeping or not being prepared) will result in a zero grade for that exam.  If you miss a exam, you MUST inform me before the test if at all possible, but if not physically capable, then notify me as soon as possible afterwards.  You can send me e-mail, phone my number (above) or the Biology Department (607-274-3161) to leave a message, and if you do not have the number with you, phone directory assistance and get the number for the main switchboard of the College (to transfer your call, or provide the correct number).  Such notification does not guarantee my accepting your reason for absence, but failing to notify me guarantees that you will not be excused.

2. Readings

You are expected to read the assigned readings BEFORE coming to class, as a background to that day's lecture.  If you have any questions regarding material in the reading, please ask during class.

3. Questions

Please feel free to ask questions in class.  Chances are that if there is something you don't understand, then others in the class are also confused. 

4. Accommodation for Students with Disabilities

I will make reasonable accommodations for any students with disabilities.  The student must inform me of their need for accommodation, and be registered with the Office of Academic Support Services for Students with Disabilities.  If tests or exams are to be written under supervision of Academic Support Services, appointments have to be made with their office at least 1 week prior to the test, and I also need to be notified at that time.

5. Personal Conduct

"A student's behavior must not interfere with the activities of the College or with other student's pursuit of educational objectives" (see General Information, Undergraduate Announcements).  Talking during lecture (except for questions or participating in class discussions) is disruptive and is disrespectful to other students and the instructor.  Cell phones, pagers, etc. must be kept turned off during classes.  Disruptions may result in the student being asked to leave the class and the student will be considered absent without excuse.  If asked to leave class on more than one occasion, the student will be dropped from the course.

6. Deadlines

Handing assignments in late puts me behind in grading, and disadvantages students who could use some extra time but who submit their assignments by the deadline.  Consequently, there is a penalty of 5% per day for written assignments (i.e., lab reports) and for submitting topics or papers for approval (i.e., poster presentation).  Posters must be submitted at least 24 hours in advance or there is a 50% penalty, and a 100% penalty if the poster cannot be posted by presentation time.  I can waiver penalties or give extensions if warranted by significant extenuating circumstances, but you must ask me before the deadline or if in an emergency, as soon as possible afterwards.  Potential extenuating circumstances include student illness requiring the student to be bed-ridden, or serious illness/death in the immediate family.  Having tests or other assignments due is not a sufficient reason: other students have similar constraints on their time, and part of an education is time management. Please submit assignments in electronic form (Word, PowerPoint or Excel files as appropriate).  Deadlines are indicated on the lecture schedule, in square brackets.

7. Plagiarism

Please be aware of plagiarism: if you take a sentence from someone else’s work and only change one or a couple of words, it is still plagiarism even if you cite the source.  You must rewrite the information or ideas in your own words.  Plagiarism is a serious offense of academic misconduct: check the student handbook and the library website for details, but it can lead to judicial proceedings and even expulsion from the college.  Each idea has to be referenced (and in the sentence where the idea appears), you cannot simply cite the reference once at the end of a paragraph containing many ideas from the same source.  In this course, there is potential for plagiarism in the laboratory write-ups and the poster presentation.  Please note that all required assignments in this course will be checked for plagiarism using Turnitin.

8. Course Evaluations:

Student input is highly valued and is important to maintain high quality instruction. The evaluation will be submitted electronically to Nancy Pierce, our Administrative Assistant, and she will verify that you have submitted the form.  Once your submission has been checked, your identification will be removed from the evaluation before I receive it (i.e., it is anonymous). Further instructions will be given at the end of the semester.

LECTURE SCHEDULE:  Tues./Thurs. 10:50 am - 12:05 pm, CNS 1B

[Disclaimer: this is not a fixed schedule, it is a forecast of the pace at which we will cover the material.]




Jan. 21/23

Introduction; An Evolutionary Approach to Behavior

Chapter 1

Jan. 28/30

Understanding Proximate and Ultimate Causes of Bird Song

Chapter 2

Feb. 4/6

The Development of Behavior

Chapter 3

Feb. 11/13

The Control of Behavior: Neural Mechanisms

Chapter 4

Feb. 18/20

The Organization of Behavior: Neurons & Hormones

Chapter 5

 Feb. 25/27

Adaptation and Antipredator Behavior

Chapter 6

March 4/6

The Evolution of Feeding Behavior; Test #1, March 4th

Chapter 7

March 8-16



March 18/20

The Evolution of Feeding Behavior

Chapter 7

March 25/27

Choosing Where to Live

Chapter 8

April 1/3

Evolution of Communication 

Chapter 9

April 8/10

The Evolution of Reproductive Behavior

Chapter 10

April 15/17

The Evolution of Mating Systems

Chapter 11

April 22/24

The Evolution of Parental Care; Test #2, April 24th

Chapter 12

 April 29/May 1

The Evolution of Social Behavior

Chapter 13

FINAL EXAM:  Tuesday May 6, 1:30 pm 4 pm



Monday 1:00 - 3:50 pm, room CNS 212

[Disclaimer: this schedule may change, depending on availability / condition of animals, etc.]



Jan. 27

Lab 1: Quantifying Behavior (Hi; due Feb. 3)

Feb. 3

Lab 2: Ethograms and Time Budgets; Mice (Int; due Feb. 10) 

Feb. 10

Lab 3: Instinct vs. Intelligence: Videos and Discussion (possible question on Test 1)

Feb. 17

Labs 4 & 5: Signal Analysis I (Ma; due March 3)

Feb. 24

Labs 4 & 5: Signal Analysis II (Ma; due March 3)

March 3

Lab 6: Bird Feeder Study (Hi; due before you leave on break)

March 10


March 17

Lab 7: Experimental Design: Pheromones (Int; due March 24)

March 24

Labs 8 & 9: Agonistic Behavior, Territoriality, and Signals: Bettas I (Ma; due April 14)

March 31

Labs 8 & 9: Agonistic Behavior, Territoriality, and Signals: Bettas II (Ma; due April 14)

April 7

Lab 10: Poster Presentations (due April 5)

April 14

Lab 11: Courtship and Mating Behavior (Hi; due April 21)                    

April 21

Labs 12: Game Theory (possible questions on Final Exam)

April 28

Lab 13: Territoriality: Redwing Blackbirds (Hi; due May 2)

May 5

Lab 14: TBA; completed earlier in the semester, outside of class time

6 lab reports: 2 major reports (Ma; 1 per block), 3 intermediate reports (Int), 4 short hand-ins (Hi)

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Page maintained and updated by Nancy Pierce and Bruce Smith.