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BIOL 429

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Biol 429
Spring 2014

Biology: Animal Behavior

Lectures: Tu,Th 2:30-3:45pm    107 Forest Resources



This course is a 400-level 3-credit elective for the ecology, general biology, and vertebrate physiology options of the undergraduate biology major, and an elective for biology and entomology graduate students.

Prerequisites: Biol 110 and Biol 220W


Goals of this course

To introduce upper level undergraduates and beginning graduate students to the mechanisms, functions and origins of animal behavior.  Major topics to be covered are: 1) the scientific study of animal behavior, 2) the development of behavior (including environmental, physiological and genetic impacts), 3) how animals interact with their environment (finding food, choosing where to live, avoiding predators, dealing with competitors), 4) mating behavior (choosing and obtaining mates, mating systems and parental care), 5) social and human behavior.  There will be a strong evolutionary focus, aiming to understand how natural selection shapes animal behavior. We will also address the ethical considerations surrounding research involving animals.


This is primarily a lecture course, but will incorporate mini-symposia given by students on the course materials, and an exercise on squirrel watching which will involve the submission of a report.  There will be three closed-book exams. 



Dr. Lindsey Swierk 

508 Mueller Lab

Office hours: Thursdays 4-5pm (510 Mueller)


If you can’t attend the office hours, please arrange to meet me by appointment.


Course Materials:

Required Textbook 

Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach by John Alcock.  

I will be using the 10th edition for lecture notes, but older versions are fine.

Copies are on Course Reserve at Pattee Library. 


Active PSU Access Account

To access lecture materials and upload reports via ANGEL it is essential that you have an active Penn State Access Account and access to a computer.  If you do not have your own computer, you can use one of the many computer labs located on campus.

Please upload a photo to your online student profile. This helps me put a face to your name, and will allow me to provide more personal references for anyone who may need one. 


Academic Integrity/Academic Dishonesty: 

All Penn State policies regarding ethics and honorable behavior apply to this course. (  Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception and is an educational objective of this institution. All University policies regarding academic integrity apply to this course. (  Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating of information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. For any material or ideas obtained from other sources, such as the text or things you see on the web, in the library, etc., a source reference must be given. Direct quotes from any source must be identified as such. All exam answers must be your own, and you must not provide any assistance to other students during exams. Any instances of academic dishonesty WILL be pursued under the University and Eberly College of Science regulations concerning academic integrity.




Lectures will take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 2:30 and 3:45pm in 407 Forest Resources

All topics discussed in class, covered in supplemental readings and mini-symposia, and posted on the course Web site, will be considered testable material.  Please do not ask me which material you “need to know”.  Unless told otherwise, you need to know it all.

Class attendance is VERY IMPORTANT!  Some material, including that covered during the mini-symposia presentations, will not be available in your textbook or posted online. 

This course stresses concepts and mechanisms, and it is critical that you understand and synthesize, rather than simply try to memorize, the material.  Memorization alone will not be sufficient to succeed in this course.  If you have any questions, bring them to class, or to my office hours (or make an appointment). 



During the semester, we will devote several class periods as symposia dealing with particular topics in animal behavior.  These symposia will be given by the students in the form of independent presentations.  The aim of this exercise is to: 1) to provide examples of how the lecture material relates to recent scientific research, 2) allow students to gain experience in critically evaluating and providing constructive feedback to their peers, and 3) providing students the opportunity to practice and gain useful input to develop their presentation skills. 

Each symposium theme will based on the material covered in the lectures since the prior symposia (see the lecture outline below). The presentation will be in the form of a research talk such as that given at a scientific meeting.  The talk should be based upon one or two readings from the recent primary literature (published since 2005).  You can choose your own paper(s) to present on or I can help you with your selection. You will need to send me the citation (author, year, title, journal, issue and page numbers) of the paper(s) you plan to present at least 1 week before you are scheduled to present. If you would like my help finding a paper, please give me at least 24 hours notice before your topic selection is due (that is, 1 week + 1 day before you’re scheduled to present).

The entire presentation should take NO MORE than 10 minutes, including a portion of the presentation devoted to answering questions from the audience.  (I suggest that you plan on 7 minutes for the talk and 3 minutes for questions.  I will be very strict about the time limit so that all the students will have a chance to give their presentation.)  Each person in the audience will evaluate the presentation, based upon certain criteria given in a handout (encompassing both content and style).  The evaluations will be used to calculate 10% of your grade  (100 out of 1000 points).   You will receive a written summary of the class feedback.

You will also get participation marks for evaluating these mini-symposia.  This will comprise 10% of your grade (100 out of 1000 points).  Constructively evaluating scientific presentations is a valuable skill, and getting feedback on your own presentation can guide you to improve your presentation skills.  

Some examples of specific presentation topics might include:

1) Potential functional significance of tail-flagging in white-tailed deer

2) Neural basis of escape behavior in cockroaches

3) Recruitment of nestmates to nectar sources by stingless bees

4) Effects of display quality on male peacocks ability to attract females

Please use Powerpoint to make your presentation (although alternative media are fine—just give me 1 week advance notice).  You will need to upload your presentation to ANGEL at least 24 hours prior to your presentation so that I can load them on the lecture room computer. 



- You will need to send me the citation (author, year, title, journal, issue and page numbers) of the paper(s) you plan to present at least 1 week before you are scheduled to present. 

- You will need to upload your presentation to ANGEL at least 24 hours prior to your presentation


If you miss the topic or presentation submission deadlines, without an Official University Excuse, I will deduct 10% off your mark.  If your presentation is not uploaded to ANGEL by 10am on the day of your presentation you will not be allowed to present. 

The only way to make up a missed presentation will be to demonstrate an officially excused absence and to submit a 5-10 page paper (double spaced type).



Research Ethics

We will have several in-class discussions on the ethical considerations of research involving animals.  You will have a homework assignment that you will need to submit to ANGEL before class on Jan 30th. Also print this out and bring it with you to class on Jan 30st. You will put what you learn into practice by conducting an independent ethical evaluation of a research case-study.  Additional instructions will be provided in class.  This component is worth 10% of your grade (100 out of 1000 points).  Homework assignment – 3%, Independent evaluation – 7%. 



Your homework assignment must be completed, submitted to ANGEL before class, printed out and brought to class with you on Jan 30st.   This will be used to inform out class discussion.  If you miss this class, you will be given an alternative assignment.

The independent evaluation must be uploaded to ANGEL by 5pm on February 11th.  Late evaluations will be penalized at 10% per day and will not be accepted beyond 3-days after the due date. 



Squirrel Watching Exercise

The aim of this exercise is to provide you with some hands-on experience in conducting behavioral observations, and the opportunity to apply some of the theory you will have learnt in lectures to interpreting specific patterns of animal behavior.  


You will be given additional instructions on the day, so you need to turn up to the lecture at 2:30pm before heading out on this exercise. You will break up into groups of 3-4 students, walk around campus looking for grey squirrels, and observe these squirrels for particular behaviors, which will be revealed on the day.

Having made careful behavioral observations, you will spend at least 20 minutes discussing with your group some possible genetic and environmental influences on the behavior you observed.  I will give you some specific ideas on the day.  You will then individually write a half-page report about some aspect of this discussion that you found interesting and submit this for assessment.  Keep this concise.  I would rather read your detailed thoughts about one particular line of thinking than a rambling superficial report of the list of things that your group talked about.

This will be worth 10% of your grade (100 out of 1000 points).


This exercise may be rescheduled in the case of bad weather.



Your report will need to be uploaded to ANGEL by 5pm the following week.  Late reports will be penalized at 10% per day and will not be accepted beyond 3-days after the due date. 





There will be three exams, each worth 200 points.  There will two midterm exams and a final, which will cover the material covered in the last third of the lectures as well as integrating information learnt throughout the course. The exams will be based on the assigned reading in the textbook, the material covered in lecture, material covered during the mini-symposia, and the squirrel-watching exercise.  Exams will comprise primarily multiple-choice and short-answer questions.   


Exam scores and answer keys will be sent to your student access account within a few days after the exam.  If you believe that a clear and unambiguous error was made in grading a question, talk to me about it within two weeks.  Questions brought up after two weeks will not be considered.


Missing an exam

If you miss an exam and have a documented legitimate excuse, you must schedule a make up for that exam with me.  Social functions (family reunions, weddings) are not legitimate excuses for missing an exam, the squirrel-watching exercise or your mini-symposia. If you qualify for a makeup exam, you need to schedule this exam with me and take it within one week of missing the regular exam.  If possible, please let me know that you will be absent in advance. 

As adults, it is your responsibility to provide reasonable verification; each situation is unique, and I am flexible.  If you have a family emergency, you may call the Assistance and Information Center 24 hour Family Emergency line at 814-863-2020.  They will take the information and notify me of your absence.  But please also let me know yourself when it is possible for you to do so. 

Note: Oversleeping is not a legitimate excuse for missing any assessable component of this course.



Assessment of Final Grades

Your grade in this course will be determined by your performance in exams, mini-symposia, your squirrel watching report, and class participation and mini-symposia feedback.  These will be allocated as follows:



Percentage of marks

Number of points




Mini-symposia feedback participation



Ethics exercise



Squirrel-watching report



Midterm 1



Midterm 2











I anticipate that students earning 90% or more of the 1000 points will receive “A” letter grades, those earning 80-90% will receive “B” letter grades, and those earning 70-80% will receive “C” grades.  These cutoffs are subject to downward adjustment if an exam turns out to be particularly difficult.  I will not curve the other way.



Qualified students with disabilities are encouraged by Penn State to participate in the University's programs and activities.  Should you need any type of accommodation in any course because of a disability or have questions or concerns about the physical access, please contact the Office for Disability Services in 116 Boucke Building (863-1807).



Lecture outline  (* = denotes the corresponding chapter in 9th edition of textbook)






January 14


Intro: Scientific study of Animal Behavior

Chapter 1

January 16


Evolution of Behavior

Chapter 1

January 21


Proximate and Ultimate Causes and Methods

Chapter 10 (2*)

January 23


Development of Behavior

Chapter 11 (3*)

January 28


Mini-Symposium I


January 30


Research Ethics (*Bring homework)


February 4


Neural Control of Behavior

Chapter 12 & 13

(4* & 5*)

February 6  


Hormones & Genetics of Behavior

Chapter 11 & 13

(3* & 5*)

February 11


Mini-Symposium II (*Ethics report due)



February 13


Exam 1


February 18


Feeding Behavior

Chapter 5 (7*)

February 20


Habitat Use

Chapter 6 (8*)

February 25


Navigation and Orientation

Chapter 6 &12

(4* & 8*)

February 27


Mini-Symposium III


March 4


Avoiding Predation

Chapter 5 (6*)

March 6


Avoiding Competition

Chapter 6 & 7 (8* & 10*)

March 11


No Class – Spring Break


March 13


No Class – Spring Break


March 18



Chapter 4 (9*)

March 20


Mini-Symposium IV


March 25


Exam 2


March 27


Competing for Mates

Chapter 7 (10*)

April 1


Mate Choice

Chapter 7 (10*)

April 3


Mini-Symposium V


April 8


Mating Systems (Guest lecturer: Chris Thawley)

Chapter 8 (11*)

April 10


Parental Care

Chapter 9 (12*)

April 15


Mini-Symposium VI


April 17


Social Behavior (Guest lecturer: Gail McCormick)

Chapter 2 & 3 (13*)

April 22


Squirrel Watching


April 24


Mini-Symposium VII


April 29


Human Behavior (*squirrel watch due)

Chapter 14

May 1


Review Session


May 5-9


Final Exam






WPSU-FM is the official source of information about weather-related delays or cancellations at the University Park campus of Penn State.  Consult the following about possible delay or cancellation of classes due to weather:

 WPSU-FM at 91.5 FM 

 WPSU on the Web at:   

 If you cannot reach WPSU-FM via the radio or the Web, then call the following number for official operating information for the University Park campus: (814) 865-4000.  

Note: The syllabus is subject to change.  While I will endeavor to adhere to the 

syllabus outlined here, I reserve the right to make changes to items on this syllabus, including changes to the lecture and exercise schedules, and lecture and exercise topics.