Marine Behavioural Ecology


Ever wondered why decorator crabs stick algae and sponge on their back? Why hermit crabs only live in a few types of shells? Or why gulls sometimes eat seastars? You can begin to make sense of the diversity of behaviours exhibited by intertidal animals through the study of behavioural ecology. This hands-on introduction to some of the key concepts and principles of behavioural ecology will quickly take you out of the classroom and into the field, where behaviour actually happens. You will do a series of day-long ‘mini-projects’ to learn the tools of the behavioural trade, and then carry out an extensive, multi-component, group-oriented research project with a focus on marine invertebrates. You will participate in all aspects of the research, from project planning, experimental design, and data collection (in the field and laboratory) to analysis, and writing. You will also learn how to disseminate your findings not just to scientists but to lay audiences by contributing blogs, podcasts and tweets.

Research Skills: Students will learn how to articulate sound hypotheses, design and implement behavioural studies involving both observation and experimentation in the lab and in the field. They will also learn to identify intertidal organisms, organize and analyze their data in R, and gain experience in communicating their findings to a range of audiences.

Practical Skills: Critical thinking, scientific method, project planning, experimental design and sampling techniques, local species identification, qualitative and quantitative data collection, data management, visualization and analysis in R, field and laboratory research techniques and safety practices, effective written and oral communication, use of social media for science communication.

Prerequisites:  Required: Intro Ecology, or instructor permission. Recommended but not required: Intro Statistics and one (1) course of either Vertebrate OR Invertebrate Zoology.

Physical Requirements: This course does not include any physical exertion or challenge beyond that expected in any of BMSC’s field courses. There will be some hiking over rough terrain and lots of trips to intertidal field sites involving getting on and off boats onto slippery rocks. There will also be a snorkeling trip involving swimming short distances in a wetsuit in cold water.

Textbook: There is no required textbook; readings will be provided by instructor.

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For an peek into what to expect, check out the YouTube video of the Marine Behavioural Ecology course at BMSC in 2013, and a video review of published papers via 60-second podcasts made by students in 2015.


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