BIO 488/688; Fall 2013; BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY

Tuesday Thursday; 09:30-10:45pm 

Room: FA 301

Instructor: Dr. Vladimir Pravosudov

FA 256; Office hours: Tuesday 3-4pm, or by appointment

Phone: 775 784 1271; email:

Textbook: AN INTRODUCTION TO BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, Fourth edition, by N. B. Davies, J. R. Krebs and S. A. West (2012)

Behavioral ecology is a discipline that is concerned with evolution and fitness consequences of behavior and therefore the main objective of this course is to learn about the relationships between animal behavior and its fitness consequences and how studying such relationships helps understanding the evolution of behavior. Behavioral Ecology is a subset of Animal Behavior. The field of Animal Behavior may be well characterized by four Tinbergen's questions - development of behavior, function of behavior, survival value of behavior and evolution of behavior. Behavioral Ecology is focused on the last two Tinbergen's questions. Behavioral ecology often relies on theoretical approach and modeling to produce evolutionary hypotheses and predictions. In this course, students will get a firm grip on main directions of behavioral ecology including topics on economic decisions made by animals, evolutionary arms races in predators and prey, competition for resources, living in groups, fighting, sexual conflict, mating systems, altruism and signaling. Students will read primary current research papers on each topic in addition to reading the textbook. Students will be introduced to applying theoretical modeling to solving questions in behavioral ecology. Students will also be working on a writing project including a review of a chosen topic in behavioral ecology. This course is NOT about diversity of behaviors in a variety of animal species; it is a course about principles of behavioral ecology and therefore the examples chosen in a course represent the best fits to conceptual topics under discussion rather than variety of animal species.  



Research written project 

Each student will write a research review paper of any chosen topic in behavioral ecology. This paper should introduce the topic in behavioral ecology and provide a review of this topic using peer-reviewed research papers. In your project you are required to use at least 5 primary sources (original research articles). All papers should be clearly related to the main topic of the paper. Each paper should be summarized and linked to the main theme following the introduction. At the end of the class, each student will make a brief (10 min) presentation of their paper.

All chosen topics have to be approved. Please feel free to choose any topic in Behavioral Ecology. Use textbook as a source of various topics and feel free to discuss your ideas with me. Your topic should address a broad conceptual question (e.g. optimal foraging, mate choice, parental investment, etc) rather then a small question about a very specific behavior (e.g. how desert tortoise chooses a mate). In your paper you should talk about specific examples, but you need to address these specific questions within a broad conceptual frame.

Research paper topic must be chosen and approved by September 19.

You are advised to use web-of-science website ( for literature search - it is the best search mechanism. Once on the website, click on 'web of science'. Within the website, you will be able to do literature search using keywords. When you submitted your keywords, web of science will bring you peer-reviewed publications based on these keywords. You could click on the title of each publication to read the abstract. If you think that you would like to use that paper, click on 'find it' button. It will open a new window with links to full text of the paper. If no links to full text are available, click 'check the catalog for availability in the UNR libraries' and see if UNR has access to an electronic version of this paper. Please feel free to use any search engine besides the Web-of-science.


All other details of the project are provided in the syllabus.


Links to the journals that publish papers in Behavioral Ecology:


Behavioral Ecology:

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology:

Animal Behaviour:

Proceedings of the Royal Society B:




Please use these journals to identify potential topics for your projects.


Final drafts of written projects must be submitted via

You need to register with in order to submit the assignment.

Class ID - 6760436; password: Pravosudov




(1) Aug 27:  Course organization; Introduction to Behavioral Ecology 

(2) Aug. 29:  Natural Selection, Ecology and Behavior; textbook Chapter 1; paper 1, paper 2

(3) Sep 3:  Natural Selection, Ecology and Behavior; Testing hypothesis in Behavioral Ecology; textbook chapter 2; pages 238-249; paper 3 

(4) Sep 5: Testing hypotheses; Economic decisions; textbook chapter 3; paper 4; paper 5

(5) Sep 10:  Testing hypotheses; Economic decisions; textbook chapter 3; paper 6; paper 7

(6) Sep 12: Economic decisions; textbook chapter 3; Predators vs Prey; Chapter 4; paper 8; paper 9

(7) Sep 17: Economic decisions; Predators vs Prey; Chapter 4;

(8) Sep 19:  topics for written projects have to be finalized and approved. Predator vs prey; paper 10


 (9) Sep 24:  Predator vs prey; Competing for resources; Chapter 5; paper 11

(10) Sep 26: Predator vs prey; Competing for resources; paper 12, paper 13

(11) Oct 1 : Competing for resources

(12) Oct 3: Competing for resources; Living in groupspaper 14, paper 15

(13) Oct 8: Living in groups ; Book chapter 6


(14) Oct 10:  Midterm (in class), please bring calculators!

(15) Oct 15:

(16) Oct 17:

(17) Oct 22: 

(18) Oct 24:  

(19) Oct 29:   

(20) Oct 31: 

(21) Nov 5:

Test study questions (cummulative)

(22) Nov 7:  

(23) Nov 12: 

(24) Nov 14:

(25) Nov 19: 

(26) Nov 21: Potentially the first day of Student Presentations

(27) Nov 26: Student Project Presentations ; Written projects are due. Submit the entire project via

November 28: Thanksgiving Day

(28) Dec 3: Project Presentations

(29) Dec 5: Project presentations

 (30) Dec 10:  Project presentations

FINAL EXAM: TUESDAY, DEC 17, 12:30-2:30 pm; same room


Quizzes - 25%

Midterm - 25%

Final - 25%

Written Project 25%



Grades will be assigned as straight percentages, with 100% being determined by the highest score on any given test, not by the highest number of points possible (unless of course somebody gets 100% correct).  That is, if the highest exam score is 90%, then all exam scores will be divided into 90 to determine their percentage score (e.g., a score of 80 on that test would be 88.9%).  Letter grade cutoffs will be (94%+ - A, 90-93% - A-, 87-89% - B+, 83-86% - B, 80-82% - B-, 77-79% - C+, 73-76% - C, 70-72% - C-, 67-69% - D+, 63-66% - D, 60-62% - D-; <60% - F.