Mark A. Davis

Professor of Biology
Macalester College


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Syllabus AssignmentsTaxonomic Lists UFIs (Useful Flyers of Information for students)

Mark Davis (Mark)                                                                                                     Spring 2005
Office: OlinRice 219; 651-696-6102                                                                           Macalester College
Office Hours: M 2:00-3:30; W 1:00-2:30

General Information

Biology 342-01 (Animal Behavior and Ecology) focuses on animals in their natural environment.  This course is partly an introduction to animal behavior and ecology.  Sometimes called behavioral ecology, this scientific field uses evolutionary theory to help explain behavior observed in the field.  In addition, this course is partly a natural history course.  Students will be introduced to many of Minnesota's birds and mammals.  You will learn how to identify birds and mammals in the field and will become familiar with the ecology of the animals.  Students will be introduced to current findings, ideas, and methods of behavioral ecologists.  There will be regular field trips to see Minnesota's animals and their habitats. (Note: this syllabus and other class assignments can be found on my website:

LECTURES:  MWF 9:40-10:40 in OlinRice 284 (occasionally we will meet for discussions in another room, and on one day late in the semester, we will meet at 6:00 a.m. for a bird walk)

TEXTS:  Alcock, Animal Behavior.  Kaufman, Birds of North America

    Plus, readings to be assigned

LABORATORY:  Tuesday 8:30-11:45.  During most weeks, we will use the time for a field trip or field exercise.  We will deviate from the Tuesday lab time on two occasions.  On Sunday, February 13, we will take a 7 hour trip to Lake Pepin (9:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m) to see the over-wintering bald eagles.  And on Saturday and Sunday, April 16-17, we will go on an overnight camping and birding and wildlife trip to the Sand Lake wildlife refuge in South Dakota.  We will leave on the South Dakota trip at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday and return by supper on Sunday.   There is a $25 per student charge for the South Dakota trip to help cover expenses.  Attendance at all Tuesday labs is required, and skipped labs and discussions will result in lost points (20 and 5 points, respectively per absence).

WRITING, DISCUSSION, EXAMINATIONS, AND GRADING:  Writing and discussion will be a regular and important part of this course.  Students will write bi-weekly memos to one another on issues raised in the course.  In addition, students will write a research proposal on a topic of behavioral ecology, and present their proposal orally to other students.  Approximately every other week, the class will meet as a seminar and students will discuss theories and findings raised in lecture and in the readings.  There will be three exams, two during the term and a final.  In addition, students will keep a record of the birds they see during the semester.  Students will be graded on the basis of their performance on exams (60%), the quality of their research proposal and lab write-ups (35%), and their participation in class discussions and memo writing (5%).

Lecture Schedule

Readings from Alcock

<>January             24        Introduction                                                                  1-21, 22-26,
                                    Behavior, Genes, Natural Selection                               34-49, 50-75

      Principles of Taxonomy and Classification/ Winter Adaptations of Animals/ Winter Birds of Minnesota                              

                        28        Winter Birds of Minnesota

                        31        Winter Birds of Minnesota

February            2        Stereotyped Behavior: Displays and  Ritualization         115-119, 92-98


  4        DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

  7        Winter Birds of Minnesota/Intro to research proposal assignment (Parts 1-4)

<> <>                          9        Communication Systems:  Visual, Auditory,                  119-134, 280-315
                                    and Olfactory                                                                                                                          

11      Foraging Ecology                                                            214-247

14                                                                                            No Class (Lake Pepin Recovery Day)

16        Winter Birds of Minnesota (Flocking and Mixed ESS)

18        DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

                        21        Introduction to Mammals

                        23        Minnesota Mammals; orders: Marsupialia, Insectivora <>                       

25        Minnesota Mammals; orders: Chiroptera, Lagomorpha

                        28        Anti-Predator Behavior                                     182-213

                          2        Minnesota Mammals; order: Rodentia

  4        DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

  7        Mate Selection and Choice                                           316-359

  9        Minnesota Mammals; orders: Rodentia and Carnivora

11        Minnesota Mammals; order: Carnivora

<>                        14       Mating Systems and Parental Care                                360-393, 394-419, 170-172 

                        16        DISCUSSION (Memos Due) 

                        18        Minnesota Mammals; order: Artiodactyla


                        28        Territoriality                                                                  266-279

                        30        Introduction to Birds

April                  1        Dispersal, Migration, and Navigation                             142-149, 248-266

  4        Birds of the Prairie

  6        Living in Groups:  Costs and Benefits                            422-426,173-179

                          8        DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

            11                                                                                            Birds of the Marshes and Waterways

                        13        Review of Research Proposals  <>

                        15         Birds of the Marshes and Waterways, Birds of Prey

                        18        No Class (Sand Lake Recovery Day) 

                        20        Birds of the Forest and Woodlands 

22        Evolution of Social Behavior                                         427-455

                       25        Birds of the Forest and Woodlands

                       27        DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

                       29        No Class/Bird Walk (6:00 a.m.) <> 

May                 1        Summary, Sociobiology and Human Implications           456-488

                                                             Laboratory Schedule

                                           Site                                          Objective/Focus

February      3            MN River Valley                Overwintering waterfowl and woodland birds

10                             Crosby Park and  Mississippi River Valley               Overwintering woodland birds
15 (Sunday)               Lake Pepin                            Overwintering Bald Eagles

24                             OlinRice 284                          Exam #1

March  1                   Ordway                                  Bird Censusing

  8                            Ordway                                   Bird Censusing

15            Minnesota Zoo                                        Review of Minnesota mammals, behavior research, and conservation biology
                                                                               in a zoo setting

29            OlinRice 284                                           Exam #2

April         12            MN River Valley                     Spring Migrants

16-17 (Sat-Sun)    Sand Lake SD                           Spring Migrants

19            Tamarack Lake                                       Spring Migrants

26            MN River Valley                                     Spring Migrants

May          3            OlinRice 284                           Oral Presentations of Research Proposals

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Bibliography Annotated Bibliography Research Proposal Instructions for Reviewing Proposals Ordway Bird Census

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    Develop a bibliography on a behavioral ecology topic of your own choosing.  Examples of topics are listed below.

    Examples of Topics

Mating and courtship strategies in tree frogs
Social behavior of naked mole rats
Territorial behavior of red-winged blackbirds
Habitat preferences of walleye and northern pike
Extra-pair copulations in socially monogamous birds
Homing behavior of salamanders
Foraging ecology of honey bees
Competition and coexistence of marsh birds

More Information: Before beginning research in the field of animal ecology, or any field for that matter, it is necessary to do a literature search.  This search will tell you what already is known about the subject and give you ideas about what type of research is still needed.  Before you can evaluate the literature, however, you first need to find it.  The purpose of this assignment is to acquaint you with the variety of bibliographic tools available to help you identify sources on a particular subject.

For this assignment, you will hand in a bibliography, that is, a list of research reports, scientific articles, government documents, books, newspaper articles, etc. dealing with your topic.  Listings must include all relevant bibliographic information: author (s), title, year, publisher (if a book), or document number (if a government document).  Group your sources under the respective bibliographic reference tools you used to find the sources, e.g., BasicBIOSIS, First Search, Science Citation Index, Clicnet, bibliography of another source, the WEB, etc.  List sources according to the format used in the journal ECOLOGY.

Don’t forget to title your bibliography.

Due: March 1

Evaluation: You will be graded on the diversity and comprehensiveness of your bibliography.  You should strive to use a variety of bibliographic search tools.  In addition, you should try to identify different types of sources, e.g., scientific reports and articles, popular articles, books, government documents, newspaper articles, etc.  You should also try to generate a fairly comprehensive, (though not exhaustive) bibliography on your topic.

Point Value: 25 points

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Task:    Write an annotated bibliography using ten of the sources you identified in assignment #1.

More Information: An annotated bibliography is a critical review of sources on a particular topic.  These sources may include journal articles, books, newspaper articles, technical reports, etc.  An annotated bibliography may be attached to a report or paper for the benefit of a reader, or it may be compiled prior to writing a major report and be used by the author.  In either case, an annotated bibliography does three things.  First, it provides a list of references on the topic.  Second, it briefly summarizes the content of each source.  And third, it critically evaluates each sources, e.g, ...presents a superficial overview..., ...the authors are distinctly biased toward..., ...a landmark study..., a good analysis of x but a poor treatment of y.., ...provides excellent illustrations or bibliography, etc.  List your sources alphabetically, and provide the basic bibliographic information using the format used in ECOLOGY.

    Don’t forget to title your annotated bibliography.

Evaluation:    Your bibliography will be graded according to the following criteria:

1.  How complete were the annotations?  Did they convey the substance of the article?

2.  Did the bibliography evaluate the sources in a way that would be useful to someone using your bibliography?

3.  How good (in terms of reliability, depth of coverage, scholarly perspective) were the sources?

4.  Was the bibliography coherent?  In other words, did it seem as if a coherent paper could be written on the basis of the sources?  This means that the sources include some works that give an overview or background on the topic, and others that are more focused and go into more detail.

5.  How well written were the annotations?  Were words correctly spelled and sentences grammatically correct?

Point Value: 50 points

Due: March 12

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Task:    Write a research proposal based on the information you gathered during assignments # 1 and 2.

More Information: By this time you should be familiar with a good deal of the animal ecology research on your topic.  It should be clear that while much already is known, there are many unanswered questions.  Your assignment is to design a research project to answer one or more of these questions and to write up your ideas in the form of a research proposal.  In describing your proposal, you should follow the guidelines listed below.  These guidelines are the same as those followed by scientists when they apply for grants from the National Science Foundation.  In fact, the following passage was taken verbatim from the NSF publication entitled Grants for Scientific Research.

The project description should be a detailed statement of the work to be undertaken and should include: objectives and expected significance, relation to the present state of knowledge in the field, and to previous work done on this topic.  The statement should include the general plan of work, including the broad design of experiments to be undertaken and an adequate description of experimental methods and procedures.

Essentially, a proposal consists of the first two parts of a scientific paper--the Introduction and Methods.  For more information on how to write a scientific paper (with guidelines for writing these two sections) see Professor Davis's UFI Flyer How to Write a Scientific Paper.  You will need to cite other studies in your proposal and you should use the citation format used in the journal, ECOLOGY.  You also need to include a Literature Cited section, in which you provide the bibliographic information for each source cited in your proposal.  Again, use the bibliographic format used in ECOLOGY.  Maximum proposal length, not including the Literature Cited section, is 10 pages.

Evaluation: Your draft will be evaluated as to how well you met the criteria stated above.  In other words, did you do a good job putting your study into a larger context?  Are your objectives clear?  Will your findings further understanding beyond your specific focus, i.e., will it help further the development of theory as well as provide more knowledge?  Are your methods clearly and sufficiently described?  Are the proposed methods appropriate to meet the stated objectives?

Due: April 14

Point Value:    No points for the draft.  However, incomplete drafts or drafts of a very low quality will be returned to the student for completion, with a point penalty, before the draft will be reviewed.

Final Draft Due: May 4

Point Value:    75 points for the final version. The final version will be prepared following comments from the student review panels and from Professor Davis.

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Students will be divided into panels consisting of three or four student reviewers. Each panel will receive three or four proposals to review. Each student in a panel will review each of the proposals assigned to that panel, and each student will be the lead reviewer for one of the proposals. Reviewers need to bring to the panel meeting a hard copy review of each of the proposals in their panel. At the panel meeting, each of the proposals will be discussed in turn, with the discussions being led by the lead reviewer. The initial basis for the discussion will be issues raised by the reviewers in their own reviews, however it is expected that the discussion will help synthesize the various points made by the different reviewers. In some cases, new issues may arise out of the discussion. It will be the lead reviewer's job to take notes during the discussion and to write up a summary review based on the discussion. The author of the proposal will receive the summary review and copies of all the individual reviews prepared by the panelists.

Discussions of individual proposal should take about twelve minutes. The lead reviewer will begin the discussion by briefly summarizing the proposal, including the objectives and proposed methodology. The lead reviewer will then summarize his/her review of the proposal, followed by brief summaries by the other panelists of their respective reviews. The discussion will continue as panelists respond to the points made by other panelists, e.g., agree, disagree, etc. During the last two minutes, the panel needs to come to a consensus on what the lead reviewer will include in the summary review.

The individual and summary reviews should be approximately 150-250 words in length. They should address positive aspects of the proposal as well as weak points. Reviewers and panels should feel free to make specific recommendations about particular aspects of the proposal, e.g., methodology or experimental design. Reviewers and panels should pay special attention to several aspects of the proposals, including the literature review (context for the proposed study), clarity of objectives and/or hypotheses to be tested, thoroughness of the methods description, and appropriateness of the methodology described, i.e., would the proposed methodology enable the author to accomplish the stated objectives?

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GOAL:    to estimate densities of over-wintering birds at Ordway; compare this year's results with results going back to 1985; to determine whether populations are stable.

PURPOSE:    to help you become more familiar with some of Minnesota's winter birds; to acquaint you with a wildlife sampling technique known as transect census; to continue a longitudenal study of over-wintering bird populations at Ordway.


A variety of bird species over-winter in the oak forest habitat at Ordway.  (See attached sheet for a complete list of birds identified in previous studies.)  Classes have censused this winter bird community since 1985.  This year you will continue this long-term study.  We are interested in finding out if winter bird populations at Ordway are stable or whether they may be increasing or decreasing.  Can you think of reasons why overall populations, or populations of some species, might be increasing or decreasing since 1985?


Students will be divided into groups of four or five (at least one person in the group must have a car).  In lab on the first day, each group will walk a transect extending from the forest edge near the railroad tracks down to the river.  Each group will then walk a different transect back to the railroad tracks.  You will repeat this procedure on another day of your choosing the following week.  On the second day, each group will divide into two sub-groups, and each sub-group will walk its own transect down and back from the river.  In collecting your data, you will need to do the following:

1)    identify the bird species you see.

2)    estimate how far away from you each bird is (horizontal distance) when you first spot it.  (This can be approximated by pacing off the distance.)

You can move off your transect to identify a bird that you spotted or heard from the transect.  However, you cannot include birds that you see when you are not on the transect.  If you cannot identify a bird, record it as 'unidentified'.  Do not record birds flying more than 10 meters above the tree canopy.

3)    determine how long your transect is.  Use the attached map.


Using the following equation, calculate the densities (# of birds per 10 hectares) for each species you identified, including unidentified species.  Then add up the densities of all species to obtain a total species density.

    D = (10^5/2L) * E(1/di )

D=density of a species (in numbers per ten hectares)

L=total length (in meters) of all transects (add all 6 of your transect lengths together)

di =distance from observer to the ith bird of that species (in meters)


Write up your results using the format of a scientific paper--Introduction, Methods (including study site), Results, and Discussion.  In your introduction, you might want to briefly set your study in the context of what you know about the habitat and food requirements of Minnesota over-wintering birds, of what you know about some of the physical constraints imposed on birds by winter, and of what you know about the landscape surrounding Ordway.  In your discussion, you should compare your results with those obtained by others in your class and with those from previous years.  Does the winter bird community seem stable over time?  Or, are has Ordway’s winter bird community changed over time?  In what ways may have Ordway or the surrounding area changed since 1985?  Has the winter climate changed during this time?  You should also discuss what factors might have influenced the accuracy of your estimates.  What do you think could be done to obtain more reliable estimates of the population densities of birds that over-winter in the Ordway forest?

(on reserve)

Spencer, R.  1982.  Birds in Winter.  Bird Study 29:169-182.

Martin et al.  1951.  American wildlife & plants: a guide to wildlife food habits.  Dover Publications, NY.

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