Animal Behaviour

This course will help you understand the remarkable behaviors of wild animals from an evolutionary perspective.  [Image: Peacock spider. Photo by Jürgen Otto, Manakin bird footage (Ex-Riddle of the Sexes) reproduced with permission, courtesy of BBC Worldwide Ltd]


Course at a Glance

About the Course

Many of us derive inspiration from watching natural history documentaries and their astounding catalogue of wild animal behaviours.  In this course, we will explore how scientists study animal behaviour, and in particular how behaviour is shaped by the evolutionary forces of natural and sexual selection. Topics include resource acquisition; avoiding enemies; mate choice and sexual conflict; cues, signals and communication; parental care and social behaviour; and the role of genes, environments and learning in regulating behavioural diversity.  We draw on examples from across the animal kingdom to illustrate the complex mechanisms underlying adaptations, and complement these with natural history videos that highlight key concepts. We evaluate the scientific rigour of studies used to test theory, and highlight the often ingenious methods adopted by researchers to understand animal behaviour.

Course Syllabus

We will cover the following topics:
  • Behaviour, Ecology and Natural Selection
  • Genes, Environment and Learning
  • Finding food and avoiding predators
  • Communication
  • Sexual selection and sperm competition
  • Mating systems and sex allocation
  • Parental care and conflict
  • Social behaviour

Recommended Background

Apart from enthusiasm for animal behaviour, there is no background required for this course.

Suggested Readings

There are no required readings for this course.

Course Format

The class will consist of lecture videos, which are broken into small chunks of 10-15 minutes in duration (total lecture video content per week 1-1.5 hours).  In addition to the weekly lecture videos, there will be a number of ‘researcher meets’, where students can interact with current researchers in animal behaviour in a live video discussion forum. 

The lecture videos contain 1-2 integrated quiz questions per video (which are not graded).  There are weekly graded homeworks, which take the form of multiple choice quizzes, and a peer-graded writing assignment.


What resources will I need for this class?
For this course, all you need is an Internet connection, copies of the texts (most of which can be obtained for free), and the time to read, write, discuss, and enjoy some extraordinary accounts of fascinating animal behaviour.

Does this course cover domestic animal behaviour (e.g. cats and dogs)?
No. The course deals with wild animals in their natural environment.

Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
A Statement of Accomplishment will be offered to those students who successfully pass the assessments as laid out in the syllabus. A verified Statement of Accomplishment will be offered to those students who enroll in the course using Signature Track and who successfully pass the assessments.