BIO315 Animal Behavior

Fall 2015

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Barry K. Rhoades

106 Munroe Science Center                                                                     

Office Phone: 757-5238                                                                    

Home Phone: 755-1630

Office  hours:             Monday           9:00 - 10:00 AM

                                    Tuesday           1:30 - 2:30 PM

                                    Wednesday      9:00 - 10:00 AM

                                    Thursday          1:30 - 2:30 PM

                                    Friday              9:00 -10:00 AM     

                                    or by appointment

(I will be in my office during these times.  Feel free to drop in to my office any other time from 9:00 to 5:00 weekdays.  When I am not in my office in MSC 106, I am often in my lab space in MSC 101/103.  If I can meet with you at that time I will, otherwise I will make an appointment for a future time.)




Class meetings:   Period 2  MWF (8:00-8:50AM)

Laboratory meeting:  Periods D-E Th (3:00-5:30 PM) 


Textbook:       Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach  (10th Ed.)  by John Alcock.  2013. Sinauer.

Laboratory manual:


Course  description and objectives:   Animal Behavior is a four credit hour course with a laboratory component.  It is intended to familiarize you with the perspectives, theories, and methods of the biological study of behavior.  This is an upper-level Biology course intended primarily for students majoring or minoring in Biology or Neuroscience.


In completing this course the student should:


1)  be able to summarize the historical perspectives and modern fields of study which contribute to ethology,

2)  demonstrate fluency with the terms and theoretical constructs of modern ethology,

3)  be able to construct and evaluate a prediction matrix for both proximate and ultimate causes any reasonable example of animal behavior,

3)  demonstrate competency with some of the diverse methodologies used in the observational and experimental study of animal behavior,

4)  apply and interpret simulations in ethology, evolution, and behavioral ecology,

5)  design, conduct, and report on a simple observational or experimental study in ethology,

6)  read, evaluate and lead discussions on articles in the primary ethological research literature, and

7)  produce a properly researched and referenced scholarly review of a tightly defined topic in modern ethology.


Course  Content:  The biological study of behavior, a.k.a. ethology, has historical roots in both zoology and comparative psychology.  It concerns itself with the morphological apparatus for behaviors, the physiological mechanisms which generate and control behaviors, the immediate environmental conditions and stimuli which elicit or "occasion" behaviors, the ecological contexts in which behavior occurs, the ontogeny of behavior patterns in the individual, and the evolutionary development of the behaviors of the species.  The central unifying theory for ethology is the same as that for biology itself, namely evolutionary theory.  In this class we will use evolutionary theory and what is known of evolutionary history as a context for all of our treatments of animal behavior.


The course begins with an introduction to ethology, especially its historical roots and unique perspectives on animal behavior.  We will discuss classical ethological questions, explanatory constructs, and methodology.  We will study approaches to establishing "proximate" behavioral causes, including behavioral genetics, behavioral ontogeny, and neuroethology.  We will discuss evolutionary theory as a basis for revealing "ultimate" causes of behavior.  We will conclude with a survey of behavioral classes, focusing on behavioral adaptations to ecological demands.  During most of these sessions we will be discussing the treatment in the text as well as research articles from the recent ethological literature.  Each of you will prepare and lead the discussion on one of these articles.


During the final two weeks of class, you will take turns presenting term papers and leading class discussion.


Class Preparation and Participation:  The assigned textbook readings represent the minimal preparation necessary for each class period.  Additional assigned readings from the professional ethological literature will be announced on a regular basis and handed out in class, at least one week in advance.  It is very important that you come to class each day having read through the assigned readings at least once.   Because well-directed discussions are more productive and enjoyable than are traditional lectures, I will try to make our class sessions as interactive as possible.  The more preparation you bring into class, the more we will have to discuss.


Attendance:   You are expected to attend classes regularly and any absence is potentially problematic.  Excessive unexcused absences (more than 4) from lecture will be reported to the Dean in accordance with college policy and may result in a grade reduction of one full grade.


Grading:    The semester grade will be computed on the following basis:


                                                                                        %     pts.

            Class Exam I                                                      15% =   75

            Class Exam II                                                     15% =   75

            Class Final Exam (cumulative)                             20% = 100

            Article Presentation                                               5% =   25

            General Class and Laboratory Participation           5% =   25

            Field Trips and Simulation Participation                  5% =   25

            Term Paper                                                         10% =   50

            Lab Writeups (3)                                                 15% =   75

            Laboratory Independent Research Project           10% =   50

            Total                                                               100% =  500


            Grades will be based on the following scale:

            90% = A, 80% = B, 70% = C, 60% = D, <60% = F.


Wesleyan College Department of Biology Policy on the Honor Code:    All students of Wesleyan College have agreed to abide by the Wesleyan College Honor Code and strict enforcement of the Honor Code will be practiced by all Biology faculty. Any violation of the Honor Code including plagiarism or cheating on exams, quizzes or any assignment will not be tolerated and will be reported to the Wesleyan College Honor Court. Cheating (giving or receiving any unauthorized information or supplying information from any source other than your memory) on any exam will result in a course semester grade of  FAny evidence that you are using an unauthorizedd electronic device (e.g. cell phone, tablet, computer) during an exam will result in an automatic score of 0 and grade of F on that exam.  Plagiarism and/or improper citation on any assignment will be dealt with on a case by case basis, but also may result in an F grade for the assignment or the course. If a student is unclear about violation of the Honor Code for any assignment, she should contact the instructor before handing in the assignment.


Wesleyan College Statement on Disabilities: Wesleyan College is committed to equal education, full participation and access to facilities for all students. Any student who requires reasonable academic accommodations or the use of auxiliary aids in class must first identify herself  to the Director of the First Year Experience and Students in Transition who serves as the Student Disability Coordinator prior to the first day of class in the semester in which she desires to receive accommodations. Documentation by a qualified physician must be provided and will be reviewed to ensure the documentation meets the college requirements. If reasonable accommodations are established, the student is expected to collaborate with each of her professors within the first week of class to determine how the accommodations will be implemented. Accommodations will not be retroactively administered for the semester. Accommodations that decrease the integrity of a course will not be approved. Please contact Christy Henry in the Academic Center for additional information or to seek services.


Civility in the Classroom: Rude, disruptive and/or disrespectful behaviors as determined by the faculty member interfere with other students’ rights and with the instructor’s ability to teach. Therefore, anyone exhibiting unacceptable behaviors during the class will be asked to leave and will be counted absent for that class period. Failure to cooperate with this process will result in disciplinary action that may include exclusion from the course or dismissal from the College.


Cell Phones:  Please do your classmates the courtesy of turning off your cell phones during class and lab periods.  If you must answer your cell phone, please leave the room to do so.  If you leave the room, please do not come back.  If you feel that you must monitor your cell phone during class or lab, please get permission from the instructor.  Absolutely no cell phones will be allowed during examinations.


Recording Devices: All novel materials developed and presented in this course are the academic and intellectual property of the course instructor, course students, and/or Wesleyan College.  Unauthorized photography, recording, electronic monitoring, and/or web dissemination of any portions of class or laboratory sessions potentially violates the legitimate expectations of privacy of your classmates and the course instructor.  Please obtain the explicit permission of the instructor before making any video or audio recordings in this course.  Please do not, under any circumstances, post recordings from this class to electronic or social media.


Testing   Format:   Lecture exams will include a few fill-in-the-blank, matching, identification, definition and/or multiple-choice questions.  Most questions will be of a short answer, describe/explain - compare/contrast type.  There will also be a few synthesis questions, requiring you to apply learned concepts to some novel problem.  I will cover the exam format in greater detail in class as the first exam approaches.  I will make every effort to return graded exams to you within one week.


Term Paper:  Each of you will write an individual term paper on an approved ethological topic of your choice.  This is to be a "library" research project, reporting on the theoretical and empirical work of others, as reported in the scientific literature.  A strong paper will deal with a tightly defined topic in a tightly focused manner.  The paper should be 4-8 pages in length, be written in an appropriate scientific language, and use proper scientific citation style.  It should present an up-to-date treatment of the subject, including  an absolute minimum of 5 primary references from the modern, professional ethological literature.  We will be discussing available bibliographic search and retrieval facilities.  Papers may be submitted for an initial non-graded review any time up to 1 week before the final due date. 


During the final 2 weeks of class each of you will present a short oral summary of your paper in class and lead a class discussion.  To provide a basis for discussion you must provide in advance one or two recent and key articles for perusal by the class.  We will be discussing the specific mechanisms for this in greater detail as the presentation dates approach.


Important deadlines for the paper are the following:

            September 25  -   get topic approved by the instructor

            October 9  -   turn in an outline of the paper and an initial bibliography

            November13   -   final date to turn in draft for comments

            November 20   -   turn in final paper and photocopies or URLs of all articles referenced

            November 20   -   distribute key article(s)

            date of presentation (Nov 30 - Dec 4)   -   lead 20 minute class discussion


Laboratory Write-ups:  You must turn in formal write-ups on threeof the laboratory exercises.  Each write-up will include a background and rationale for the study, the experimental materials and methods, an organized presentation of the experimental results, and a discussion of the results.  Laboratory write-ups must be your individual work.  While you will, of necessity, share data with your classmates, and you are free to discuss your results with your classmates, you must generate all text and figures (tables and graphs) on your own All write-ups are due by 5:00 PM Wednesday, December 9th.


Laboratory IRP:   You will undertake an independent research project as an individual or a pair.  You should plan to devote at least 10-20 hours to the project.  Your independent project may be a laboratory project or a field project on almost any question of animal behavior.  Your project may focus on some particular aspect of your class term paper, as long as it constitutes original research on your part.




1)   Discuss your ideas for a project with the instructor sometime before the end of Week 5  (Sept. 18).  Hopefully the instructor can help you refine your project to one which is "doable" within the available time and resource constraints.


2)   Turn in a formal written proposal to the instructor by the end of Week 7 - 5:00PM on Friday, Oct.  2.  The proposal may be submitted by e-mail.  The proposal should include a list of the participating experimenters, a clear statement of the experimental question and hypotheses, a brief sketch of the experimental design, an estimated time line for the project, a detailed list of the animals, equipment, and facilities needed, and an IACUC form (see below), if required.


3)   Be prepared to orally present your proposal during class October 21 (Week 10).  This will be an informal discussion, intended for sharing ideas with the other members of your lab and refining your experimental design.




1)   We will be discussing what resources are available for you to apply to your IRP.


2)   Although there are several scheduled lab periods for IRP work, you will probably need to conduct some or all of your research outside of the scheduled lab times.  Plan ahead and try not to get caught short on time at the end of the semester.




1)   Prepare your project for presentation in poster form.  Good posters are organized as a sequence of discrete panels.  This sequence should include an abstract, a brief statement of the background and rationale of the experimental question and approach, an outline of the experimental methods, a graphical and pictorial presentation of the results (usually in several labeled and briefly annotated panels or figures), and a very concise statement of the major conclusions.  You will have a PowerPoint template and multiple examples from previous years to guide you in designing and completing your poster.  Be sure to make arrangements with the instructor to print your poster on the large-format printer WELL in advance of the poster defense day (Dec. 2).


2)   Set your poster up on a poster board in the hall outside MSC 101 before the final lab session on December 2.  During the lab session you will be expected to provide a "defense" of your poster.  The poster defense will consist of "walking us through" the poster, and answering questions about your design, data analysis, conclusions, etc.  Posters may remain posted until the next offering of BIO 315 (Fall 2017).


      Finally a few important points to remember about the projects:


1)   Any project involving direct manipulation of live vertebrate animals must have the prior approval of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).  Forms for this can be obtained from the instructor.  The form must be completed, turned in, and approved before you can order your animal(s) or perform any experimental procedures.  You must take into consideration what will happen to your animals at the end of your IRP.


2)   PLEASE talk to your instructor (me) about your project before you submit any forms.  I do NOT want to hear about a proposal first when I receive your completed IACUC form.


3)   We do not have the resources to support all possible animal projects, or to maintain all possible research animals.  Please discuss your ideas with the instructor as early as possible, to get some idea of the feasibility of the project. 


4)   For your safety, if you are conducting a field study make sure that someone knows your itinerary for each expedition into the field, even if the "field" is the Wesleyan back campus.


Laboratory Cleanup:  You will be expected (required!) to clean up your work area after each laboratory exercise, keep your IRP work materials neatly organized, and clean up your IRP by the end of the course.




   WK:  DATE:              TOPIC:                                                        ALCOCK  TEXT CH  ED10 (9)


      1     8/17, 8/19          Introduction/history, perspectives & structure of ethology                        1,10 (1) 

             8/21                   Evolution by natural selection - a review                                                  none 

      2     8/24                   Diversity of behavior and ethological constructs                                       none

             8/26                   Ethological Methods: the ethogram and sociometric matrix                       article

             8/28                   Ethological methods: sampling and experimental control                           article


      3     8/31, 9/2            Proximate and ultimate causes of behavior                                               2,10 (2)  

             9/4                     The nature/nurture question/fallacy                                                           11 (3)

      4     9/7                     NO CLASS – LABOR DAY

             9/9                     Behavioral ontogeny - genetics                                                                11 (3)

             9/11                   Behavioral ontogeny - environment                                                          11 (3)

      5     9/14, 9/16          Neural substrates                                                                                     12 (4)

             9/18                   Neuroethology                                                                                         12 (4)

      6     9/21, 9/23          CATCHUP & REVIEW

             9/24                   Midterm Exam 1 (during lab period)

             9/25                   Neuroethology                                                                                         12 (4)

      7     9/28                   Circadian rhythms                                                                                     13 (5)          

             9/30                   Seasonal rhythms                                                                                      13 (5)

             10/2                   Neuroendocrinology                                                                                 13 (5)

             10/9                   Independent Research Project proposal due 5:00PM                                           


      8     10/5                   The adaptationist paradigm                                                                      articles

             10/7                   Predator/prey  relationships                                                            5 (6), articles

             10/9                   Parasite/host relationships                                                               5 (6), articles

             10/9                   Term Paper outline & bibliography due 5:00PM                                             

      9     10/12                 NO CLASS – FALL BREAK

             10/16                 Foraging behavior                                                                           5 (7), articles

             10/18                 Habitat selection                                                                             6 (8), articles

    10     10/19                 Lab 9b: Simulation design

             10/21                 Lab 10a: IRP oral proposal presentations

             10/23                 Animal communication                                                                    4 (9), articles

     11    10/26                 Animal communication                                                                    4 (9), articles

             10/28                 Mate choice                                                                                  7(10), articles

             10/30                 Facultative sex ratios                                                                                articles

     12    11/2, 11/4          CATCHUP & REVIEW                                                                      

             11/5                   Midterm 2 (during lab period)

             11/6                   Mating systems                                                                             8 (11), articles 

     13    11/9                   Parental care                                                                                 9 (12), articles 

             11/11                 Adoption, Infanticide, Siblicide                                                      9 (12), articles 

             11/13                 Brood parasitism                                                                                     articles

             11/20                 deadline to turn in Term Paper draft for review  5:00PM                               

     14    11/16                 Social behavior                                                                             3(13), articles

             11/18                 Eusocial behavior                                                                          3(13), articles

             11/20                 Human ethology                                                                         14 (14), articles

             11/20                 Term Paper due by 5:00PM                                                                                 

             11/23-11/27      NO CLASSES - THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY                                              

     16    11/30                 student presentations

             12/2                   student presentations

             12/4                   student presentations                                                                                            

      17   12/7, 12/9          CATCHUP & REVIEW

             12/9                   All written work (lab write-ups) due by 5:00 PM

             12/10                 READING DAY

             Tuesday 12/15 5:00 PM       Final Exam (cumulative) 




The lab manual for this course is online at:

The instructor may also distribute appropriate ancillary materials prior to each lab. 


As you will notice, the typical lab exercise is actually split over several lab exercises.  Conversely, each lab session may involve components of several lab exercises.  Furthermore, animal behavior labs tend to be very dependent upon availability of animals from vendors and the activity of animals outdoors, so specific dates may change.  Finally, labs involving field trips off campus or field observations at specific times (e.g. morning, evening, all day) will, of necessity, not occur entirely within the scheduled lab periods.  I will try my best to keep you appraised of changes to the schedule and to give you as much advance notice as possible for such changes. 


A well-organized laboratory notebook would be a very good way to keep your laboratory records and data.


WEEK:      DATE:          TOPIC:                                                                               

     1               8/20                 Lab 1a: Behavioral Observation in Betta splendens

     2               8/27                 Lab 1b: Experimental Analysis of Betta splendens

     3               9/3                   Lab 2a: Ethogram/Sociometric Matrix - the SIMs

                                              Lab 2b: Behavioral Sequence Sampling in Jewel Wasps

                                              Lab 7a: Field trip to Foster Lake (recording) - 9:00PM Sharp!

     4               9/10 (all day)  Lab 2c: Field trip to ZooAtlanta - 8:00AM Sharp!

     5               9/17                 Lab 3: Jamming Avoidance Response in Knifefish

     6               9/24                 Midterm Exam 1                 

     7               10/1                 Lab 4a: Neural Substrate of Escape Behavior in Crayfish (setup)

                                              Lab 8a: Reproductive Strategies in Jewel Wasps (life cycle)

                      10/2 (Fri)         Lab 10a: IRP written proposals due 5:00 PM

     8               10/8                 Lab 4b: Neural Substrate of Escape Behavior in Crayfish (recording)

                                              Lab 8b: Reproductive Strategies in Jewel Wasps (setup)

                                              (good time to start IRP setup)

     9               10/15               Lab 5: Foraging and Search Image Simulations

                                              Lab 9a: Designing a Simulation (selection of topic)

     10             10/21 (Wed)    IRP oral proposal presentations in class

                      10/22               Lab 6: Agonistic Behavior in Crayfish and Wasps

                                              Lab 8c: Reproductive Strategies in Jewel Wasps (data collection)

     11             10/29               Lab 7c: Acoustical Analysis using Raven     

                                              Lab 8d: Reproductive Strategies in Jewel Wasps (analysis)

                                              Lab 10b: Independent Research Project (experiment)

                      10/31 (Sat)      Lab 7a: Field trip to the Arboretum (recording) - 8:00 AM Sharp!

     12              11/5                Midterm Exam 2  

     13              1/12                Lab 9c: Simulation Testing

                                              Lab 10b: Independent Research Project (experiment)

     14              11/19              Lab 10b: Independent Research Project (experiment)

                       11/23-11/27                     THANKSGIVING BREAK - NO LAB

     15              12/3                Lab 10c: IRP Poster Session (IRP posters posted and defended)

     16              12/10                              READING DAY - NO LAB