Animal Behaviour: An Introduction (Online)

Course summary

Animal Behaviour: An Introduction (Online)



Overview

Why do animals behave the way they do? In this course we will look at the full range of behaviours found in the animal kingdom from simple escape behaviours to complex tool use and their evolution.

The study of animal behaviour, less than 100 years old as a scientific discipline, has demonstrated that behaviours, similar to anatomy and physiology, have been shaped by evolution, while at the same time many behaviours show an astounding flexibility that allow individuals to learn and change throughout their life.

Thus the study of animal behaviour is not only shedding light on the range of fascinating behaviours found in nature, but it also increases our understanding of our animal companions and ultimately of ourselves. In this course, we will explore of a wide range of behaviours, while at the same time getting a comprehensive introduction to evolutionary thinking. During the course we will be using examples from a broad range of animal groups including, foraging in spiders, social behaviours in ants, learning in dogs and tool use in birds and mammals.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

1. Introduction to the study and definition of animal behaviour

  • What is the study of animal behaviour?
  • Tinbergen’s four questions
  • The sensory and nervous system

2. Evolution, genes and natural selection

  • Darwin and Wallace
  • Genetics and DNA
  • Natural selection in action
  • Genes and behaviour
  • Adaption

3. Foraging behaviour

  • Types of foraging
  • Camouflage and mimicry
  • Trade-off and co-evolution

4. Measuring and analysing animal behaviour

  • Steps involved in studying behaviour
  • Observing and recording animal behaviour
  • The risk of anthropomorphism
  • Using video and online resources in behaviour research
  • Finding and understanding scientific papers

5. Signals, communication and sexual selection

  • Animal senses
  • Signals and stimuli
  • Animal communication
  • Sexual selection and mate choice
  • Mating systems and strategies

6. Kin selection, inclusive fitness and social behaviour

  • Types of altruism
  • Group-living and cooperative breeding
  • The ants and their societies

7. Decision-making and evolutionary stable strategies

  • Long- and short-term decision-making
  • Motivation and the mechanisms of decision-making
  • Evolutionary stable strategies and game theory
  • Inter-individual conflict and the Hawk–Dove game
  • Cooperation, the Prisoner’s Dilemma and tit-for-tat strategies

8. Artificial selection, domestic animals and animal welfare

  • Domestication
  • Applied ethology and animal welfare
  • Getting information from animals on their welfare and suffering
  • Pets and human–animal interactions

9. Learning and memory

  • Habituation and sensitisation
  • Associative learning – classical conditioning
  • Associative learning – instrumental learning
  • Social learning
  • Higher forms of learning and animal teaching
  • Memory and brain structures

10. Animal cognition and tool use

  • Problem-solving, insight learning and intelligence
  • Examples of problem-solving in invertebrates
  • Examples of problem-solving in birds and mammals
  • Tool use
  • Self-awareness and theory of mind

Recommended reading

To participate in this course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following book:

Manning, A. and Dawkins, M. S. An Introduction to Animal Behaviour (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Certification

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below: http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/studentsupport/faq/cats.php

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Fees

EU Fee: £260.00
Non-EU Fee: £295.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00

Tutor

Dr Thomas Hesselberg

Dr Thomas Hesselberg’s research focuses on behavioural ecology and comparative biomechanics of invertebrates primarily using spiders and their webs as model organisms. In particular, he is interested in how behavioural plasticity has evolved to cope with the constraints imposed by a relatively limited brain capacity and with the biomechanical constraints imposed by morphological and external environmental factors as well as silk material properties.

Course aims

This course aims to explore the variety of different behaviours found in a broad range of animal groups, using a scientific and evolutionary approach.

This course will enable participants to:

  • Achieve an overview of the different types of animal behaviours and understand how proximate and ultimate explanations can be used to provide a theoretical framework.
  • Understand how evolutionary thinking and the scientific analytical approach are applied to the study of animal behaviour.
  • Apply this knowledge to analyse and understand behaviour in both wild and domestic animals.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to :

  • Be familiar with a range of different types of behaviours found in both lower and higher animals and understand the theoretical framework used to explain evolution of these behaviours.
  • Understand how evolution has shaped behaviours in the long term through genetic adaptations, and in the short term, through enabling modifications of set behaviours by learning and behavioural flexibility.
  • Have the skills to analyse behaviours and understand the functional reasons behind the expression of these behaviours


By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to measure and analyse animal behaviours.
  • The ability to apply evolutionary thinking to the analysis of animal behaviour.
  • Research Skills: 1) The ability to read and evaluate scientific papers in animal behaviour. 2) The ability to understand and design experiments to test hypothesis in animal behaviour.

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment of 500 words due half way through the course and one longer assignment of 1500 words due in the final week of the course.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

Application

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.

Level and demands

10 weeks, 100 study hours at FHEQ level 4