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 Animal Behavior  posted by  duggu   on 12/11/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Schneider, Gerald, 9.20 Animal Behavior, Fall 2005. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 08 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Photo of three lions hunting on the Serengeti.

Three African lions hunting on the Serengeti. (Photo by Gary Stolz, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

Course Highlights

This course features a complete set of audio lectures and a bibliography of readings.

Course Description

Most of the major categories of adaptive behavior can be seen in all animals. This course begins with the evolution of behavior, the driver of nervous system evolution, reviewed using concepts developed in ethology, sociobiology, other comparative studies, and in studies of brain evolution. The roles of various types of plasticity are considered, as well as foraging and feeding, defensive and aggressive behavior, courtship and reproduction, migration and navigation, social activities and communication, with contributions of inherited patterns and cognitive abilities. Both field and laboratory based studies are reviewed; and finally, human behavior is considered within the context of primate studies.

Special Features

  • Complete audio lectures   
  • Syllabus

    Class Overview

    The introductory topics will cover various approaches to the study of animals and their behavior. Key concepts in studies of animal behavior, emphasizing ethology, are covered in class and in the assigned readings from Scott (2005), supplemented by selections from other books, especially from classics in the field as well as selected videos. Next, key concepts in sociobiology are covered using readings from Alcock (2001), supplemented by selections from additional books and some video presentations.

    Topics for special emphasis include:

    • Key concepts in learning.
    • Habitat selection. Nest site selection; territoriality; dispersal; migration.
    • Feeding. Foraging or stalking; prey capture; storage/hoarding; consummation.
    • Antipredator behavior. Detection; tricking the predator; defenses - individual, social; other adaptations.
    • Sexuality. Dimorphisms in body and behavior; social organization, dominance structures; evolution of sexual signals, emancipation from original uses.
    • Mating and reproduction. Pair bonding varieties and advantages; brood tending and its evolution; similarities of emancipated actions across widely different species.
    • Cooperation among conspecifics.
    • Tool use.

    Class Format

    The class sessions will include:

    • Lecture/discussion of key concepts in readings, using the study questions for guidance.
    • Some sessions will include viewing of selected videos.
    • Student discussion and presentations.


    Scott, Graham. Essential Animal Behavior. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. ISBN: 0632057998.

    Alcock, John. The Triumph of Sociobiology. Oxford, UK; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN: 0195143833.

    Additional books for selected readings and reference are listed in the readings section. The other listed texts we will not have time to read despite their value. Effort on the readings is expected outside of class. Students should read for key concepts and their illustration in actual examples. Always try to answer the study questions, which will be posted on the course Web site.


    • Do all assigned readings. Attempt to answer study questions before class; these will be discussed in class, along with additional material.
    • Weekly short quizzes or homework assignments.
    • Midterm and final exams.
    • Project paper and short presentation, late in the term.


    Quizzes and Homework 20%
    Project Paper 30%
    Exam 1 20%
    Exam 2 30%
  • Calendar

    1 Animals in Human History

    Amateur and Professional Studies
    2-3 Introduction to Ethology

    Tinbergen's Four Questions

    Field Studies of Birds
    Homework 1 due at Lec #3
    4 Lorenz' Jackdaws  
    5 Ethology of Geese

    Fixed Action Patterns and the Central Nervous System
    6 Input and Output Sides of Innate Behavior

    7 Motivation (cont.)  
    8 Lorenz on Fixed Action Patterns  
    9 Lorenz on Innate Releasing Mechanisms  
    10 Models, Hierarchies and Chains of Action Patterns  
    11 Spatial Orientation

    Multiple Motivations
    12 Interlude: Evolutionary Genetics - Guest Lecturer, R. Lewontin Homework 2 due
    13 Evolution of Behavior, Genes, Learning  
    14 Navigation, Migration, Communication  
    15 Communication (cont.)  
    16 Foraging Homework 3 due
    17 Anti-predator Behavior  
    18 Anti-predator Behavior (cont.)  
    19 Mating and Reproduction, Introduction  
    20 Sociobiology Introduction  
    21 Sociobiology Subject Matter  
    22 Genes and Behaviors  
    23 Sociobiology and Science  
    24-25 Discoveries of Sociobiology  
    26 Video: Portions of two programs on the behavior of the domestic cat, showing similarities with larger cat species  
    27 Videos on the Behavior of Apes  
    28 Cultural Determinism and Sociobiology  
    29 Sociobiology and Culture Homework 4 due two days after Lec #29
    30 Practical Issues in Study of Adaptation  
    31 The Triumph of Sociobiology Homework 5 due two days after Lec #31
    32-35 Student Project Presentations  
    36 Student Project Presentations (cont.), Review  
    37 Exam Review Session  
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