Course Synopsis: The living world is teeming with animal signals and cues, including visual displays, odor trails, acoustic advertisements, nonverbal gestures, and their multimodal combinations. Using a cross-disciplinary approach, we will uncover principles underlying how and why animals communicate they way they do. The seminar component will comprise student-led discussions and presentations of the primary literature, examining (1) signal production; (2) how the physical environment affects the transmission of these signals; (3) the reception and perception of signals by receivers; (4) how the social/ecological environment affects signaling strategies; and (4) how signaling systems evolve, considered in the context of when the interests of signalers and receivers are shared or in conflict. The lab sessions will familiarize students with some of the tools used in animal communication, highlighting bioacoustics and visual signals, and will culminate in independent projects. This course takes an explicitly quantitative approach to understanding animal communication.

Course Goals: The principal goal of this seminar is to cultivate the habit of “thinking like a scientist.” We will achieve this through four mechanisms (a) the disciplined and critical analysis of primary literature, and (b) direct involvement in scientific discovery through the development and execution of original independent projects; (c) practicing the art of orally communicating science by way of leading discussions and presenting your independent projects; and (d) developing the art of formal scientific prose.

Prerequisites: This is a seminar course intended for seniors and juniors with interests in animal behavior, neurobiology, and evolution. Required prerequisites are: BIOL 001, BIOL 002 and one or more of the following: BIOL 020, 022, or 030, with priority to those students who have taken 030; STAT 011 or equivalent is strongly recommended.