Biology 375: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

I teach in a number of different ways. I am an instructor in several undergraduate and graduate courses, where I try to convey our understanding of organisms. I also mentor students at multiple levels in the process of generating new knowledge. Of special note regarding mentoring is that I am the Director of an NSF funded REU site program entitled "Suburban Ecology and Invasive Species". Check out its web site here.  Below I describe my courses and other mentoring opportunities.












In this mid-level course, we investigate the action of natural selection in shaping different types of behavior, such as foraging, predator avoidance, mate choice, parental care, and many forms of social behavior. The course emphasizes critical thinking and the scientific process. Students will be encouraged to think carefully, logically, and critically about ideas and to ask questions and defend their views. We will mix results from studies, audio, and several types of visual media to learn about the many really cool things animals do.


Course website


Next offered Fall 2020 as remote course

Ornithology is the scientific study of birds. This course is an advanced undergraduate survey of ornithology. Students will learn about birds: how to identify them, what are the major characteristics and distinguishing features of the major groups of birds, and how birds function in a diversity of environments. The course will also cover a modern scientific approach to birds, and will thus use birds as a means to uncover general biological principles. A significant portion of the course will be about evolutionary hypotheses, ecological processes, physiological and neurobiological mechanisms, and behavioral characteristics using birds as examples. Finally, this course will also cover methods of doing science, from collecting data on birds to reading, writing, and interpreting scientific literature on birds. Students should acquire by the end of the course a new appreciation and knowledge of birds, additional understanding of biological concepts, and an improved ability to be an active scientist.


Course website (updated for Spring 2020)


Next offered: Unknown, possibly Spring 2022

I think that the field of Behavioral Ecology has developed our understanding of the ecology of selection more than any other field in Biology. In this graduate-level course, we will explore this idea in detail, and develop skills in the blending of concept-theory-data that has made BE such a powerful field of inquiry. Students will be asked to do lots of reading of both primary and secondary literature, to write coherently about specific topics, and continually to seek a deeper understanding of the material. We will cover all the major topics in behavioral ecology, including optimal foraging, predation, grouping, fighting, mating, and cooperation. In that context, we will also learn cross-cutting ideas or approaches, such as approaches to measuring selection, understanding fitness, plasticity, game theory, optimization, and quantitative genetics.


Course Website


Next offered: Unknown 

The Graduate Seminar meets weekly to discuss readings and explore new combinations of empirical findings and conceptual ideas. It rotates among faculty who teaches it. Over the years I have done seminars on a variety of topics. I find these the most rewarding for all involved if an explicit goal is to produce a review paper or opinion piece. This worked well in a 770 a while back on Learning and Mate Choice that produced a nice review in Animal Behaviour. Fall 2013, More recently, I lead one called "Writing a Review on Multidimensional Plasticity" (shown in graph to left). It got published last year (link)!  



Next offered: Uncertain, possibly Spring 2021. 

There are two main opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in research:


Biology 395: Independent Research

My group often has projects suitable for students interested in getting involved in research. Bio 395 exposes you to the full process of doing scientific research, from refining an idea, designing the study, collecting some of the data, analyzing the data, and writing up the results and your interpretation of what they mean. We often have a variety of venues to do research, from working with free-living animals, aviary studies, and video and lab studies. Interested students should contact me to learn more!


Summer Internships

In some years, I have funds to support undergraduates in an immersive research experience over the summer. Contact me if you are potentially interested.


David F. Westneat| Tel 01 859 323 9499 | Fax 859 257 1717 |