Animal Behavior (Zool 4312/5312)
Tuesday and Thursday 9:30-10:50
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why did that animal do that?” There are many levels at which we could seek answers, running from proximal mechanisms (firing neurons and hormonal stimulus) through ultimate mechanisms (the evolutionary selective pressures which produce adaptive behaviors through natural selection). This course is primarily about the latter. In it we seek answers to why organisms evolved various mating strategies, what accounts for differences in sexual characteristics and mate choice among males and females, how organisms use signals, the information they contain, whether they signal honest information or whether we expect to see cheaters within populations, conflicts of interest between siblings, parents and offspring, males and females, and so on. We explore these questions through evolutionary game theory, which provides the underlying framework for understanding the evolution of animal behaviors. Games are simple: they contain two or more players, strategies, a set of rules, and payoffs – like any ordinary game most people are familiar with. But to be correctly considered as a game they must include frequency-dependence – a technical term for the observation that your best move depends on what your opponent does. These simple phenomena can be used to explore and explain the diversity of behaviors in the animal world.