Biology 105: The singing life of birds.

Many of us have awoken on a beautiful spring morning to the sound of birds singing.  Indeed, bird song has enchanted and intrigued humans for millennia.  To truly understand bird song we must understand both the hows (mechanisms and ontogeny) and the whys (function and phylogeny) of singing.   For instance, we might wonder how the brains and muscles of birds work together to produce song or how singing behavior is affected by hormones(mechanisms). We might also wonder if bird song is innate or if baby birds have to learn how to sing (ontogeny).  From an evolutionary perspective we might wonder why natural selection has favored singing (function) and how singing behavior is distributed among different bird species (phylogeny).  In our quest to understand bird song we’ll cover topics in genetics, cell biology, physiology, neuroscience, animal behavior, ecology and evolution.    Syllabus

Biology 106: Introduction to Biological Investigation

Investigation of biological questions via extended laboratory or field projects. Emphasis is placed on observation skills, development and testing of hypotheses, experimental design, data collection, statistical analysis, and scientific writing and presentation. The department.

Biology 228: Animal Physiology 

In this course we will explore the common physiological tasks animals must conduct during their lives including acquiring and using energy (feeding, digestion, nutrition, metabolism); obtaining and circulating oxygen (respirations and circulation); staying hydrated (osmotic regulation and excretion); navigating the world (movement, muscles, biomechanics); and coordinating physiological function with the environment (information and sensory systems; neural control and integration, the endocrine system). We will use a comparative approach to understand how physiological systems and functions evolved in different taxa. We will also use a comparative approach to understand the importance of the relationship between ecology and physiology.     Syllabus

Biology 375: Sensory Ecology (Formerly Biology 389)

There are many behaviors that are critical to the survival and reproduction of animals including finding food, avoiding predators, attracting mates, and raising offspring. The ability to successfully engage in these behaviors is dependent on the ability of organisms to acquire and respond to information in their environment. In this course we discuss the concept of information, the types of information available in the environment, the diversity of sensory systems animals have evolved to exploit that information, and how sensory information and processing influence behavior. Sensory ecology is a highly interdisciplinary field and we make use of mathematical, physical, chemical and biological principles. The class is divided among traditional lectures, student led discussions of the primary literature, and hands-on experiences with sensory ecology data collection and analysis.    Syllabus

Biology 382: Animal Communication 

All animals use communication to navigate interactions with other individuals. At its most basic animal communication is a feedback loop. Senders produce signals which travel through the environment and are picked up by a receiver. The reception of the signal changes the behavior of the receiver through either voluntary or involuntary neural and hormonal changes; this, in turn, changes the behavior of the sender. In this course we discuss (1) how animal signals are produced, transmitted, and received; (2) how information transfer has evolved and been optimized; (3) how animals use communication in mate attraction, social integration, and predator-prey interactions; and (4) the controversy surrounding the definition of communication. Animal communication is a highly interdisciplinary field and we explore the chemical and physical properties of signals, as well as the mathematical models, neural and hormonal control, and the ecological and evolutionary underpinnings of animal communication.  Syllabus

Neuroscience and Behavior 301: Seminar in Neuroscience and Behavior

2017 Topic: The Auditory System

In this class we will first discuss the general layout of the auditory system starting with peripheral structures (the outer and inner ear, auditory nerve) and then ascending from the brainstem to the forebrain. We will then discuss similarities and difference in the structure of the auditory system across taxa (primarily in vertebrates).  From there, we will move to function of the auditory system; discussion will focus on frequency sensitivity, frequency resolution, temporal resolution, and sound localization.  Once we are familiar with auditory processing we will discuss how different evolutionary pressures might favor different emphases across different species (e.g. frequency resolution for speech process, strong localization abilities for prey capture in nocturnal animals, etc.) and how animals might match auditory processing to salient stimuli through either development or auditory plasticity. Finally, we will discuss different pathologies in the auditory system of humans, with an emphasis on clinical diagnosis and treatment.    Syllabus

2018 Topic: Neuroethology

Neuroethology is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand the mechanistic (i.e. neural) basis of behaviors animal perform under natural conditions (i.e. ethology).  Neuroethologist typically employ experimental paradigms that are explicitly comparative or based in an evolutionary framework. We’ll explore classic examples from neuroethology including bat echolocation, navigation in birds and sea turtles, escape behaviors in tadpoles, prey recognition in toads and more. Syllabus

Neuroethology Content from Students: 

Neuroethology of Spatial Navigation