BIOS3011 – Animal Behaviour

Animal Behaviour provides one of the most fascinating and rewarding fields of biological study. In BIO3011, we introduce the study of animal behaviour and the levels at which it can be studied. We then spend the bulk of the course focussing on the adaptive evolution of animal behaviour and how ecological processes shape such behaviour. This course has a strong focus on contemporary research, both in lecture content and in a practical program that is heavily research—and student—centred. 

Term 2

Study level: Undergraduate

6 units of credit

Current handbook entry Current timetable Course outline

The course has the following explicit aims:

  • To introduce the broad approaches used to study animal behaviour.
  • To consider the proximate genetic, neurobiological, hormonal, physiological and environmental influences on behaviour.
  • To introduce the concepts and tools necessary to build a sophisticated understanding of the evolution of behaviour.
  • To explore the important insights that an adaptive perspective on human behaviour can provide.
  • To emphasise the importance of primary research in student learning by devoting a considerable portion of the course to case studies presented by practising scientists.
  • To provide an introduction to the use of formal mathematical models to understand adaptive behaviour.
  • To explicitly teach skills in research design, execution, analysis and communication by providing intensive collaborative research projects.
  • To strengthen student skills in all aspects of collaborative work in these projects.
Learn about the remarkable behaviour of amphibious fish and gliding lizards.

Who should I contact?

Coordinator: Dr Terry Ord

Course instructors are frequent media commentators on animal behaviour related news stories. Here, Terry discusses the evolution of amphibious behaviour in fish on the island of Guam.

What does this course cover?

The instructors of this course are active researchers of evolution and behavioural ecology and will teach the skills necessary for studying behaviour and reveal how behaviour evolves, just like any other aspect of an animal’s phenotype (e.g., morphology, physiology, etc).

Hear about the study of lizard territorial behaviour using robots.

Major topics include:

  • Neuroethology
  • Evolution of behaviour, prehistoric and contemporary
  • Animal cooperation
  • Animal and human social behaviour
  • Choosing a mate
  • Animal communication
  • Conflict and territoriality
  • Finding a home and food
  • Animal cognition and learning

Where does this course fit into my degree?

This course is intended for Stage 3 students with an interest in evolution and animal ecology. It involves learning skills associated with independent research, how to measure and interpret behaviour, as well as how the application of mathematical theory can strengthen our understanding of the function and evolution of adaptive behaviour. It provides hands-on experience in conducting “real” science, effective science communication, and provides an excellent foundation for honours research.

More broadly, animal behaviour is often complex, highly variable (even within the same individual) and seemingly difficult to measure and study experimentally. Yet the way in which an animal interacts with its environment – how an animal ‘behaves’ – determines the types of selection pressures that an animal experiences. Animal behaviour subsequently lies at the heart of many fundamental questions in evolutionary biology. The course is ideal for students interested in extending their knowledge of evolution, and wishing to understand why animals ‘do what they do’.

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a co-requisite?

Students are expected to have a general understanding of animal ecology and evolution, and are strongly recommended to have at least taken BIOS2011 – Evolutionary & Physiological Ecology.

Any of the following courses would also provide a solid foundation for this course: BIOS2061 – Vertebrate Zoology, BIOS2031 – Biology of Invertebrates, BEES2041 – Data Analysis for Life and Earth Sciences, and BIOS3171 – Evolution.

Are there mandatory activities for this course?

Practicals are compulsory.

Is there anything else I should know?

Choose a research project of your choice, including ant navigation and foraging behaviour.

There is no field trip for this course, but students are expected to conduct their own independent research project, which might include fieldwork at local parks and bushland. The topic of this research project is up to the student groups.

I took this course a while ago, and need proof of what was covered.

2017 Course Outline

Student testimonials

Students that took the course have gone onto study animal behaviour for honours and postgraduate degrees, such as Courtney (left), Jack (centre) and Tom (right).

“The content of the lectures were all very interesting. The case studies were also a great way to introduce us to some of the research that is being conducted in animal behaviour and was an interesting addition to the lecture series. The labs were also very hands on, engaging and well organised.”

“I really enjoyed the lectures and case studies, which were interesting and relevant. The group project was a good chance to meet people and develop collaborative skills.”

“I really loved the content in this course. It was interesting and really made me consider pursuing doing honours in animal behaviour. I like the hands on working with actual animals in the labs and really enjoyed the case studies that were given each week.”

“Fascinating subject. Case studies were very interesting too. Assessments were appropriate given the hand ons nature of the subject. Fantastic course. I loved it!”

“Very interesting course which incorporates behaviour of both animals and humans. Lots of other aspects are also covered in the course through case study lectures. The material in this course is very interesting and the labs are very hands-on.”

“Very interesting and different compared to other biology courses. The independent project was challenging but also very rewarding.”

NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).