Biology 608/621: Behavioral Ecology and Life Histories


Course Description

This will be an advanced class in Behavioral Ecology. I believe that the field of behavioral ecology has, more than any other subfield of Evolutionary Biology, focused on the ecology of selection, and so that phrase is a suitable subtitle for the course. I will emphasize the blending of concept-theory-data that has made BE such a powerful field of inquiry, although conceptual ideas will be a stronger focus than the other two. Students will be asked to do a lot of reading of both primary and secondary literature, to write coherently about specific topics in the field, and continually to seek a deeper understanding of the material. Students should learn about specific ideas and the studies that have explored them, but there will also be an emphasis on general skills of evaluating the logic of an idea and the design of an experiment, of articulating a competing view, and of writing even-handed and forward-looking critiques of current thought.

General structure of class.- Class time will be a mix of lecture and discussion. We are set-up to have ~2 hrs on Tuesday afternoons and 1 hr on Thursday. Tuesday sessions will be fairly well-defined with general topics already assigned.  Students will prepare for these sessions by reading assigned chapters from Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology and possibly supplementary reading.  Students will prepare questions on the readings. Tuesday sessions will be a mix of lecture and discussion of key ideas stimulated by the questions students prepared on the reading (see below). I tend to like the Socratic method in an attempt to get students to become self-aware of the limits to their understanding and to improve their abilities to articulate complex ideas, but I will adjust depending on the needs of the class.

Thursday sessions will be more flexible. Many sessions will be discussions of particular papers relevant to topics that emerged on Tuesday as being vital to further understanding. Students thus may be asked to read new material for Thursday that is assigned on the preceding Tuesday, although I expect these cases to be relatively rare.



Topics for Position Papers