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BioNB 4340 - Advanced Behavioral Ecology

4 units. Fall semester 2014. Lectures/discussion TTH 10:10-11:25, location: CMS 108 (Comstock Hall)

Text: Davies, Krebs, & West. 2012. An Introduction to Behavioral Ecology, 4th edition. Wiley-Blackwell.

Walt Koenig (Professor) and Josh LaPergola (TA)


Learning goals of the course:

            The general goal of the course is to provide you with an in-depth review of the field of behavioral ecology, focusing on developing the skills necessary for a successful professional career in this field and in science in general. More specific goals include:

1) Investigating in depth behavioral ecology's major concepts, ideas, and hypotheses through readings of the text and of the primary literature.

2) Studying a sample of important controversies in the field of behavioral ecology and learning about the theoretical basis and empirical support on both sides of the issues.

3) Learning how to read, summarize, and critically discuss scientific papers.

4) Learning the major communication skills necessary for a career in science, including how to write a scientific paper, how to present the paper orally, and how to write an effective grant proposal.



pdf of the most current syllabus

Goto Week 14 (25 Nov.)

Special assignments:

Symposium assignment (pdf)

Grant proposal assignment (including 3 examples from 2012) See Week 4


Week 1 (26 August)

Tuesday: Introduction

** Handout #1 **

Writing assignment #1: GRFP personal statement (due 2 Sept.)


Thursday: Ch. 1: Natural Selection, ecology, and behavior

** Handout #2 **

Handout: Some hints on scientific writing

Discussion (Josh): A critique of the adaptationist program (and a response)

Gould, S. J. and R. C. Lewontin. 1979. The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist programme. Proc. R. Soc. London B 205: 581-598.

Queller, D. C. 1995. The spaniels of St. Marx and the Panglossian paradox: a critique of a rhetorical programme. Q. Rev. Biol. 70: 485-489.

And, for an extremely amusing response (review) related to Gould:

Barash, D. P. 2002. Grappling with the ghost of Gould. Human Nature Review 2: 282-292.


Week 2 (2 - 4 September)

Tuesday: Ch. 2: Testing hypotheses in behavioral ecology and Ch. 15: Adaptation and design

** Handout #3 **

Writing assignment #2. Critique of the adaptationist program (due 9 Sept.)

For the assignment you will need Barash's original paper:

Barash, D. P. 1976. Male response to apparent female adultery in the mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides): an evolutionary interpretation. American Naturalist 110: 1097-1101.

Chapter discussion


** Handout #4 **

Discussion: An adaptationist manifesto

Reeve, H. K. and P. W. Sherman. 1993. Adaptation and the goals of evolutionary research. Q. Rev. Biol. 68: 1-32

And, in case you're interested in a prominent alternative viewpoint:

Autumn et al 2002. Integrating historical and mechanistic biology enhances the study of adaptation. Q. Rev. Biol. 77: 383-408.


Week 3 (9 - 11 September)

Tuesday: Ch. 3: Economic decisions and the individual

** Handout #5 **

Writing assignment #3. Memory and cognition (due 16 Sept.)

Click here for papers relevant to writing assignment #3 (Clayton papers and two examples of a "News and Views" type paper)


*** Choose a symposium topic ***

Chapter discussion


** Handout #6 **

Discussion: Public and private information

Doligez, B., E. Danchin, and J. Clobert. 2002. Public information and breeding habitat selection in a wild bird population. Science 297: 1168-1170.

Danchin, E., L.-A. Giraldeau, T. J. Valone, and R. H. Wagner. 2004. Public information: from nosy neighbors to cultural evolution. Science 305: 487-491.


Week 4 (16 - 18 September)

Tuesday: Ch. 4: Predators and prey

Writing assignment #4: Rewrite your personal statements (due 23 Sept.)


[Walt is off counting acorns in California]

** Handout: information about preparing the grant proposal **

** An example of an award-winning proposal from 2012 **

** Another example of an excellent proposal from 2012 **

** Yet a third example of a really great proposal from 2012 **

(note: plan on bringing a prospectus to class on 21 October for discussion)

Discussion: brood parasitism

Davies, N. B. 2011. Cuckoo adaptations: trickery and tuning. J. Zool. 284: 1-14.

Foitzik, S., et al. 2001. Coevolution in host-parasite systems: behavioural strategies of slave-making ants and their hosts. Proc. R. Soc. London B 268: 1139-1146.



Week 5 (23 - 25 September)

[Walt is still off counting acorns in California]

Tuesday: Competing for resources

Writing assignment #5: Rewrite your critique of the adaptationist program (writing assignment #2)(due 30 Sept.)

*** Discuss potential DDIG topics with Josh ***


Discussion: animal personalities

Sih, A., A. Bell, and J. C. Johnson. 2004. Behavioral syndromes: an ecological and evolutionary overview. Trends Ecol. Evol. 19: 372-378.

Wolf, M. and F. J. Weissing. 2012. Animal personalities: consequences for ecology and evolution Trends Ecol. Evol. 27: 452-461.


Week 6 (30 Sept. - 2 Oct.)

Tuesday: Ch. 6: Living in groups

Writing assignment #6. Levels of analysis(due 7 Oct.)

Chapter discussion


Discussion: Coloniality in swallows

Hoogland, J. L. and P. W. Sherman. 1976. Advantages and disadvantages of bank swallow (Riparia riparia) coloniality. Ecol. Monogr. 46: 33-58.

Danchin, E. and R. H. Wagner. 1997. The evolution of coloniality: the emergence of new perspectives. Trends Ecol. Evol. 12: 342-347.

and consensus building in animals and humans

Dyer, J. R. et al. 2008. Consensus decision making in human crowds. Animal Behaviour 75: 461-470.

Couzin, I. D. et al. 2011. Uninformed individuals promote democratic consensus in animal groups. Science 334: 1578-1580.




Week 7 (7 - 9 October)

Tuesday: Ch. 7: Sexual selection

Chapter discussion

** Handout #8 **

Writing assignment #7. Why the dawn chorus? (1 page) (due 16 Oct.)


Chapter discussion (continued)

Discussion: sexual selection in cimicids and humans

Siva-Jothy, M. T. 2006. Trauma, disease and collateral damage: conflict in cimicids. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. London B: 361: 269-275.

Thornhill, T. and S. W. Gangestad. 1996. The evolution of human sexuality. Trends Ecol. Evol. 11: 98-102.



Week 8 (16 October)

Tuesday: Fall break (no class)

Thursday: Ch. 8: Parental care

Chapter discussion

** Handout #9 **



Week 9 (21 - 23 October)

Tuesday: Ch. 9: Mating systems

Chapter discussion

** Handout #10 **

*** Bring a prospectus for your grant proposal ***


Discussion: grant proposals

Evolution of mating systems

Emlen, S. T. and L. W. Oring. 1977. Ecology, sexual selection, and the evolution of mating systems. Science 197: 215-223.



Week 10 (28 - 30 October)

Tuesday: Ch. 10: Sex ratio evolution

*** This week: discuss grant proposals with Walt and Josh ***

** Handout #11 **


Discussion: Sex ratio

Trivers, R. L. and D. E. Willard. 1973. Natural selection of parental ability to vary the sex ratio of offspring. Science 179: 90-92.

Burley, N. 1981. Sex ratio manipulation and selection for attractiveness. Science 211: 721-722.

Ewen, J. G., P. Cassey and A. P. Møller. 2004. Facultative primary sex ratio variation: a lack of evidence in birds? Proc. R. Soc. London B 271: 1277-1282.



Week 11 (4 - 8 November)

Tuesday: Ch. 11: Altruism and spite

Walt's at a conference in California

Chapter discussion


Discussion: Evolution of human altruism

Fehr, E. and U. Fischbacher. 2003. The nature of human altruism. Nature 425: 785-791.

Milinski, M, D. Semmann and H.-J. Krambeck. 2002. Reputation helps solve the 'tragedy of the commons'. Nature 415: 424-426.

Nowak, M. A. and K. Sigmund. 1998. Evolution of indirect reciprocity by image scoring. Nature 393: 573-577.


SATURDAY, 8 November : Cooperative breeding symposium, 9 am - 12:30 (Rosenblatt Room, Mudd Hall, Campus)

Symposium Schedule




Week 12 (11 - 13 November)


Tuesday: Ch. 12: Evolution of cooperation

Chapter discussion

** Symposium writing assignment due **




Reciprocal cooperation in pied flycatchers (Maria, Natasha, Zephyr, and Rebekah)

Krams, I. et al. 2008. Experimental evidence of reciprocal altruism in the pied flycatcher. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 62: 599-605

Russell, A. F. and J. Wright. 2009. Avian mobbing: byproduct mutualism not reciprocal altruism. Trends Ecol. Evol. 24: 3-5 and Wheatcroft, D. J. and U. Krams. 2009. Response to Russell and Wright: avian mobbing. Trends Ecol. Evol. 24: 5.

Medical applications of bacterial behavioral ecology (Ryan, Tyler, Emily, and Ruth)

André, J.-B. and B. Godelle. 2005. Multicellular organization in bacteria as a target for drug therapy. Ecol. Lett. 8:800-810.

Brown, S. P. et al. 2009. Social evolution in micro-organisms and a trojan horse approach to medical intervention strategies. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. London B 364: 3157-3168.

Reciprocal altruism in vampire bats (Phoebe, Jonathan, Joseph, and Rose)

Wilkinson, G. S. 1984. Reciprocal food sharing in the vampire bat. Nature 308: 181-184.

Carter, G. G. and G. S. Wilkinson. 2013. Food sharing in vampire bats: reciprocal help predicts donations more than relatedness or harassment. Proc. Roy. Soc. London B 280: 20122573.




Week 13 (18 - 20 November)

Tuesday: Ch. 13: Social insects

Chapter discussion


** Draft of Grant proposals due (electronic copies are fine!!)**

For examples from 2012, see Week 4



Strassmann, J. E. and D. C. Queller. 2007. Insect societies as divided organisms: the complexities of purpose and cross-purpose. PNAS 104: 8619-8626.

Queller, D. C. 2000. Relatedness and the fraternal major transitions. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. London B 355: 1647-1655.



Week 14 (25 November)



Nowak, M.A., C. E. Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson. 2010. The evolution of eusociality. Nature 466: 1057-1062.

Brief communications arising from Nowak et al. 2011. Nature 471: E1-E10.

And, for an interesting discussion of self-deception by our old friend Bob Trivers, see

Trivers, R. 2010. Deceit and self-deception. Pp. 373-393 in P. M. Kappeler and J. B. Sik (eds), Mind the Gap. Springer, Berlin.

** Handout #12 (self-deception)**

Ch. 14: Communication

Chapter discussion

** Peer review of proposals due**


Thursday: Turkey day (no class)


Week 15 (2 - 4 December)


The wonderful wacky world of the acorn woodpecker


** Draft 2 of grant proposals due **


Thursday: Graduate studies and academic careers


Stearns, S. C. and R. Huey. 1987. Some modest advice for graduate students


Reply to Stearns: some acynical advice for graduate students. Bull. Ecol. Soc. America 68: 145-153.


You are encouraged to revise your papers

as many times as you can incorporating any and

all comments. The deadline for submitting

revisions is 11:59pm EST, MONDAY, December 8th, 2014!


Thanks, good luck, and keep in touch!








Contact information:

Walter D. Koenig

Bird Population Studies
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Rd,
Ithaca, NY 14850
Office: 607 - 254-2151

OFFICE HOURS: TTh 9 - 10, W307 Mudd Hall


Acorn woodpecker feeding at the nest

Acorn woodpecker feeding at the nest