Behavioural Ecology

Module code: BS2068

Module co-ordinator: Dr Rob Hammond

Animal behaviour is a fascinating topic that has gone well beyond the descriptive phase. This module emphasises the effects of behaviour on fitness (ie. survival and reproduction). We will focus on the evolutionary function of behaviour and how to test hypotheses while making appropriate reference to mechanisms and sensory input. We will also cover relevant topics in evolution such as the significance and evolution of body size, optimal design of body structure, and the comparative method in phylogenetic analysis. You will learn how the theory of evolution by natural selection underpins modern interpretation of the function of animal behaviour, and how to develop and test hypotheses about behaviour using experiment and observation.

Practicals in this module include:

  • Recording primate behaviour: an observational comparison, at Twycross Zoo, between the social behaviour of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.
  • Prey selection by sticklebacks: lab-based practical to test the preference sticklebacks have for different types of prey.
  • The use of statistics to analyse behavioural data

Topics covered

  • Evolution and the study of behaviour
  • The evolution of sex
  • Sexual selection
  • Mating systems
  • Alternative mating tactics and sperm competition
  • Parental care
  • Optimality theory
  • Optimality and reproductive decisions
  • Living in groups
  • Contest behaviour
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Kin selection, reciprocal altruism and the evolution of cooperation
  • Ape politics
  • Communication in the service of cooperation - vervet monkey alarm calls
  • How monkeys see the world
  • Do chimpanzees have culture?
  • Human behavioural ecology




  • Exam (70%)
  • Essay, 1,500 words (10%)
  • Practical reports (20%)