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BIOL 3101: Animal Behaviour

This course provides a basic introduction to the study of behaviour. Students concentrate on the evolution of behaviour by natural selection, and briefly consider behavioural genetics, development, and mechanistic aspects. The major topics considered include feeding, habitat choice, antipredator behaviour, parental care and reproductive tactics, mating systems, social behaviour, and human behaviour. Students develop a basic understanding of the evolution and adaptation of behaviour.

Learning outcomes

  • Identify the types of questions that may be asked about animal behaviour, and formulate hypotheses to explain a given behaviour.
  • Distinguish between individual and group selection explanations for the evolution of behaviour, and explain why the latter is incorrect.
  • Trace the history of the study of animal behaviour and how the field of study became what it is today.
  • Explain the principles involved in the historical evolution of any behaviour.
  • Describe some of the mechanisms involved in the production of a behavioural sequence by an animal.
  • Discuss the role of natural selection in the evolution of behaviour.
  • Discuss the evolution of human behaviour.
  • Critically examine scientific papers and identify hypotheses and predictions about behaviour, the procedures used to test them, the types of data collected, how the results are visually displayed and described, and how the results are interpreted by the authors.

Course topics

  • Unit 1: An Introduction to Behaviour
  • Unit 2: Bird Song—A Case Study for Understanding the Study of Behaviour
  • Unit 3: The Role of Genetic, Environmental, Developmental, Hormonal, and Neuronal Factors in Animal Behaviour
  • Unit 4: Acquiring Resources, Choosing Habitat, and Avoiding Predation
  • Unit 5: Communication, Reproduction, and Mating Systems
  • Unit 6: Sociality

Required text and materials

The following materials are required for this course:

  1. Rubenstein DR, Alcock J. 2019. Animal behaviour: An evolutionary approach (11th ed.). Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates.
    Type: Textbook: ISBN-13: 978-1605355481
  1. de Waal, F. 2016. Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? New York (NY): W.W. Norton & Company.
    Type: Textbook: ISBN: 978-0-393-35366-2

Note: Both of the above resources are also available in an e-book.


To successfully complete this course, students must achieve a passing grade of 50% or higher on the overall course, and 50% or higher on the mandatory final project.

Quizzes: There are 5 quizzes, each worth 5% 25%
Assignment 1: Unit 2 Paper Breakdown – Changing Song Dialects 5%
Assignment 2: Blogs 1 – 3 10%
Assignment 3: Unit 3 Paper Breakdown – Cognition 6%
Assignment 4: Unit 4 Paper Breakdown – Migration 7%
Assignment 5: Unit 5 Paper Breakdown – Polyandry 7%
Assignment 6: Blogs 4 – 6 10%
Final Project: Popular Science Essay (mandatory) 30%
Total 100%

Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Students will receive the necessary contact information at the start of the course.

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