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BIO 3176 Animal Behaviour

Course Description

An introduction to the study of animal behaviour; evolution and adaptive value of behaviour. The field of animal behaviour is vast and I will focus on the ecological and evolutionary aspects.  The emphasis in this course will be on the ultimate causes and effects of animal behaviour (why these behaviours are adaptive), rather than the proximate mechanisms by which behaviours are elicited (neural or hormonal mechanisms and controls, for example).

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to deductively and inductively assess the adaptive value of animal behaviours and to be able to explain the ultimate evolutionary role of each behaviour in its appropriate ecological context.

Office Hours

I will be in my office on Thursdays from 11-12 for you to drop in to ask questions or to chat about life, the universe and everything.  There will be some times that I will not physically be on campus at that time but we can always arrange to meet over Zoom if that’s the case…. send me an email to set up a meeting.


Occasionally, I will be required to contact you by email with some info about the course.  Please note that it is your responsibility to check your uottawa email regularly and to respond within a reasonable delay.  You may consult these regulations surrounding email contact at uOttawa here.


Midterm 1 (Friday October 13): 20 or 25%
Midterm2 (Friday November 24): 20 or 25%
Behaviour observation study: 10% (due Friday October 20)
Documentary Project (December 6): 30%
Final Paper (due Dec. 13 @ 5pm): 15%

Documentary Episodes

This Fall 2023 term, I will be introducing a novel form of learning resource material in the form of a 10-part documentary series that I recently created for the content of Animal Behaviour.  Given the engaging and immersive effect of nature documentaries on the informal learning of biology, they can provide students of biology with a lasting affective (or emotional) learning experience, and may positively impact your own motivation and engagement in learning biology.

You may find the entire playlist of the Animal Behaviour video series on Youtube here.

It is my hope that you will enjoy watching these informal videos in your own time and that they will provide you with a supplementary source of course material in an engaging and entertaining manner.

Exam content 
The exams will mostly concentrate on higher levels of interpretation of the lecture material, such as comparisons and contrasting, as well as interpretations, analysis and synthesis, rather than listings of terms or regurgitation of facts.

Importantly, you will be expected to communicate your learning from this course in class and on the exams without needing to rely on examples.  What that means is that you will be expected to be able to describe or explain the fundamental ecological and evolutionary principles behind how and why animals behave the way the do, when they do.  For more information on this process of teaching and learning Animal Behaviour through exemplification, please have a look at our manuscript published on a study of this approach.

Note policy for missed midterms: If you miss a midterm due to a medical emergency (only with valid medical certificate), there will be no make-up test.  Instead the weight of your missed midterm will be transferred to that of the other midterm and your final essay.  If you miss a midterm, it is your responsibility to bring me your medical exemption note within 3 (three) days or else you will receive a mark of 0 (zero) on the test.

Also note that late penalties apply to missed deadline at 10% per school day deducted from the evaluation in question.


Rubenstein, D.R., Animal Behavior, 12th edition. Sinauer Press.
This text is available at the University Bookstore and elsewhere (both new and used copies are available) and at many online bookstores.

Previous editions of this text can be used if you find a used copy but it will be your responsibility to verify how they differ and to have read all required segments. Likewise, there are many other good texts on Animal Behaviour that you are welcome to use but again, you must make sure that the required material is adequately covered.

Lecture Notes

I have also posted lecture notes below to accompany the in-class lectures.  Students may also get a head-start on their required readings, as the lectures will follow the order below in the textbook.

I have also posted Key Words of interest arising from the readings and the lectures.  These are provided for you to allow you to familiarize yourself with the appropriate terminology of the field of Animal Behaviour and to provide you with a study guide for words that you should know how to define, explain and use in your lexicon while discussing these topics.

These Key Words are the terms used when discussing the biology of Animal Behaviour so you will want to start using them, as they will be a necessary part of a complete exam answer, for example.  You may also use the lists of Key Words as items from which you may build concept maps that tie the various notions in the field together.

Chapter 1
Notes in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 2
The integrative study of behaviour 
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 3
The development and molecular bases of behaviour 
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 4
The neural basis of behaviours 
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 5
The physiological and endocrine bases of behaviours
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 6
Avoiding predators and finding food
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 7
Territoriality and movement
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 8 
Principles of communication
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 9
Reproductive behaviour
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 10
Mating systems
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 11
Parental care
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 12
Principles of social evolution
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 13
Social behaviour and sociality
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words
Chapter 14
Human Behaviour
Part 1 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Part 2 in 3 slides or 6 slides
Key Words

Behaviour Observation Study

You will go outside over the course of the month of September and note a particular animal behaviour on at least four (4) different occasions, taking note of the animal’s targeting (observed) behaviour, as well as any other competing or associated behaviours that may have an impact on that animal’s decision-making processes while under your observation.

Note: you must choose a species of wild animal, not domesticated (no pets, farm animals or humans are to be chosen for study in this project).  Also, you do not need to observe the exact same individual animal on each of your observation days, just an individual from the same species engaging in the same behaviour in a similar context.

You will keep a log of these observations and will submit them alongside your 1-page (typed, double spaced, 12pt font) report attempting to describe the adaptive value of the behaviour that you observed.

As you shall see below, it will also be helpful for you to gather video of your animal’s behaviours to be used in the doc project.

As we shall learn in the course, the adaptive value is a measure of the evolutionary impacts of a behaviour, i.e. how the ultimate function of a behaviour (what purpose it serves) has evolved to maximize fitness (survival and/or reproduction).  You will learn more about this project as we discuss some details in the classroom.  The final report (your observation notes and one page of written analysis) is due on Friday October 20.

Documentary Project Information

In a group of 3 students, you will use the information and footage recorded from your Behavioural Observation project to build a 10 minute nature documentary-style video.  You will need to decide on whose data from the Behavioural Observation study will be best to use and all 3 students will focus on that topic for their video.  It may be helpful to consider the topic (which animal behaviour), the nature of the storyline and the quality of gathered footage when deciding which student’s data to use from the Behavioural Observation study in order to construct your nature documentary.

Nowadays, most students have all that it takes to record and build videos on their phones, tablets or laptops and can use software such as iMovie, Adobe, GoPro and a myriad of others. There are also many tutorials online on building short videos and documentaries using your own e-devices.

When building the narration for your documentary, consider a storyline that will captivate and intrigue your audience that will not be experts in biology.  As such, you will want to explain your concepts and ideas without using too much technical jargon or to make use of analogies and imagery to make your points come across in the documentary.  Lastly, the structure of documentary storylines do not usually follow the typical format for scientific communication (intro, methods, results, discussion), so you should consider a story arc that will help guide your audience through an engaging and unfolding process.  A common format used in film production is described in an article I wrote on the ‘shape of your story‘.

Your 10 minute video is due by file transfer service (such as wetransfer.com) by no later than 5pm on Dec. 6th.

Final Paper

By the end of the term, we will have finished a look at ourselves, humans, as animals that have evolved behaviours like all other animals and that our behaviours also have adaptive values for our own fitness consequences.

You will have one week after the end of term (due Wednesday, December 13 @ 5pm by email) to write 2 pages on the topic of the adaptive values a human behaviour of your choice (12 pt font, double spaced).   This is an open-ended assignment that allows you to explore what you may find interesting about human behaviour from an evolutionary perspective.

These papers will be written in the form of a literature review and will explore the relevant research on your topic.  Starting from general concepts that were learned in this course, you will then dive deeply into one aspect of human behaviour by presenting an overview of the primary research literature on that topic.  In order to ensure that you are covering a topic in sufficient detail, you should expect to have a bibliography of around 8-10 primary research articles.  This scientific paper must conform to the in-text citations and reference formatting of the American Psychological Association’s Style and Grammar Guidelines.

Academic Regulation A-1 on Bilingualism:
“Except in programs and courses for which language is a requirement, all students have the right to produce their written work and to answer examination questions in the official language of their choice, regardless of the course’s language of instruction.”


Ni manàdjiyànànig Màmìwininì Anishinàbeg, ogog kà nàgadawàbandadjig iyo akì eko weshkad. Ako nongom ega wìkàd kì mìgiwewàdj.
Ni manàdjiyànànig kakina Anishinàbeg ondaje kaye ogog kakina eniyagizidjig enigokamigàg Kanadàng eji ondàpinangig endàwàdjin Odàwàng.
Ninisidawinawànànig kenawendamòdjig kije kikenindamàwin; weshkinìgidjig kaye kejeyàdizidjig.
Nigijeweninmànànig ogog kà nìgànì sòngideyedjig; weshkad, nongom; kaye àyànikàdj.


We pay respect to the Algonquin people, who are the traditional guardians of this land. We acknowledge their longstanding relationship with this territory, which remains unceded.
We pay respect to all Indigenous people in this region, from all nations across Canada, who call Ottawa home.
We acknowledge the traditional knowledge keepers, both young and old.
And we honour their courageous leaders: past, present, and future.

Discussion Guidelines

  • Be constructive. Make your point, stay on topic, and don’t forget to complete the task as directed. Take your posts seriously and review and edit your posts before sending. Cite your sources, just as you would for a paper or a face-to-face discussion.
  • Be active. Participate and contribute to the discussions and read all messages in a thread before replying. Don’t repeat someone else’s post without adding something of your own to it. Avoid short, generic replies such as, “I agree.”, include why you agree or add to the previous point.
  • Be open-minded. Always be respectful of others’ opinions even when they differ from your own. Challenge ideas rather than the individual who offered them. Approach discussions with the goal of increasing everyone’s knowledge.

University Policies

Prevention of Sexual Violence

If you feel unsafe, call 9-1-1 or reach out to campus protective services at 613-562-5411. 

The University of Ottawa has a zero-tolerance policy for any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression. This includes both physical and psychological acts that are committed, threatened, or attempted against a person without the person’s consent, such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, sexual exploitation, and cyberbullying. The University, as well as various employee and student groups, offers a variety of services and resources to ensure that all uOttawa community members have access to confidential support and information, and to procedures for reporting an incident or filing a complaint. For more information, please visit https://www.uottawa.ca/sexual-violence-support-and-prevention/

Academic Accommodations

The Human Rights Office and the Student Academic Success Service (SASS) support students to remove barriers to accessibility. The University has always strived to meet the needs of individuals with learning disabilities or with other temporary or permanent functional disabilities (hearing/visual impairments, sustained health issues, mental health or learning disabilities), and the campus community works collaboratively so that you can develop and maintain your autonomy, as well as reach your full potential throughout your studies. You can call on a wide range of services and resources, all provided with expertise, professionalism and confidentiality.

If barriers are preventing you from integrating into university life and you need adaptive measures to progress (physical setting, arrangements for exams, learning strategies, etc.), contact:

  • (currently unavailable) visiting the SASS Academic Accommodations office on the third floor of the Desmarais Building, Room 3172 
  • logging into the Academic Accommodations Portal (Ventus) and completing the intake form
  • calling the SASS Academic Accommodations office at 613-562-5976

Deadlines for submitting requests for adaptive measures during exams:

  • Midterms, tests, deferred exams: seven business days before the exam, test or other written evaluation (excluding the day of the exam itself
  • Final exams:
    • November 15 for the fall session
    • March 15 for the winter session
    • Seven business days before the date of the exam for the spring/summer session (excluding the day of the exam itself).

Justification of absence from an examination (mid-term, final, supplemental or deferred) or from a test, or of late submission of assignments

Absence from any examination or test, or late submission of assignments on medical grounds or due to exceptional personal circumstances must be justified; otherwise, students will not be given the opportunity to complete the missed examination or test or to submit late assignments.

See regulation 9.5 for more information…

Want to hear what previous students are saying anonymously about this course? Below are some testimonials from previous BIO3176 students :

  • My favourite class thus far!  I really enjoyed your teaching once again and will be taking more of your classes.
  • The whole course was interesting.  Animal Behaviour taught/showed me to be able to apply concepts rather than have an assortment of random facts memorized.
  • I like Dr. Brown’s impersonations and demonstrations because they are entertaining and make the material easy to remember
  • Easily one of the best courses I’ve ever taken!
  • I really enjoyed this course and your style of teaching.  I also thought that the emphasis on being able to communicate rather than memorization was important.  While I still have to work on that, I have learned a great deal from this course both about the material and on being a student in biology in general.
  • I really enjoyed this class, it’s taught me so much about behaviour and I feel as though the information that I’ve acquired in this course is very applicable and crucial to know.
  • This was probably one of my favourite subjects at university.
  • I liked learning Animal Behaviour because it encourages critical thinking and not just regurgitation of information
  • Amazing course, so interesting and really well delivered.  Thanks!
  • Great class, fabulous prof :)
  • Great course, one of my favourites.  You’re a great teacher who teaches the concepts well.  Also you are passionate and energetic which make learning more enjoyable.
  • Dr. Brown you have taught me a lot and this was by far my favourite class I’ve taken in university.
  • I like that it isn’t about memorizing material and spitting it back verbatim.  But it’s rather about understanding and explaining why behaviours are the way they are.
  • My favourite thing about learning Animal Behaviour is being able to apply the themes we have learned to things that we can observe on a regular basis.  It is always fun conversation starter, and is really applicable to my other courses as well.
  • I enjoy your lecture style.  The website is well organized and easy to navigate, thanks!   Thank you for putting a sample midterm.
  • I have been waiting since first year to take a course like this.  The material is something that I am very interested in on top of that.  I was happy to know you would be teaching it because I very much enjoyed your teaching style in Pesticides and the Environment last year.  The textbook is excellent and I love that the lectures follow the order.  I felt the exam (midterm, since final has yet to be written) was very fair and closely followed what was taught in class. 
  • In summary, AWESOME! Thank you for inspiring me to learn more about this subject! It’s great to have such a passionate professor.  I hope I’m able to have the same level of passion and enthusiasm for my students (I sent in my application to teacher’s college this past month > keep your fingers crossed !! :o))
  • This has been my 2nd favourite class in university, as well as my 2nd best organized/structured class (sorry, Ecology with Kerr and Animal with Houseman went for 1st place respectively).  But this class was really excellent. I love the organization, the random facts I now know about animals and your evaluation style (minus the combined mark for the presentation).  I also REALLY appreciated the midterm solution review, I plan to use a similar method when I bdecome a teacher.  KEEP UP THE EXCELLENT WORK :o)
  • You took the place of my previous favourite prof, the main reason? Your as organized, as intelligent, and as stimulating but you don’t have any arrogance.
  • You’re a great speaker and make the content very interesting! Great course overall
  • I actually love the course! It’s one of my favourites out of all the courses I’ve taken.
  • The course so far has been very interesting! =)
  • Hymenoptera are really interesting!
  • This course is great! I find that the way Dr. Brown teaches is very captivating and the fact that he uses so many examples in class to describe the concept makes learning the material much easier. I am even more intrigued and interested in animal behaviour than I was before taking the class.
  • Lectures were animated and the textbook was only needed for specific definitions because other explanations during class were well fleshed out.  Sample midterms and sample finals were useful abd very representative of the content in both the midterm and final respectively.
  • I love your teaching, just wished other profs would use it so I can get good at it. Deep thinking is a lot harder than regurgitating!
  • I enjoyed the course. I was nervous, I felt it might be a course with a rather large course load and would be hard to keep up, but I really enjoyed the subject matter. No boring lectures like other biology could have. You taught the course in a way that helped us grasp the main theories and terms and also used great examples in your teaching. I really had fun learning about animal Behvaiour. Thanks! Cheers!
  • I like the theories and analysis. It was fun to apply what we learned in the context of human behaviour and to find similarities and hidden reasons behind actions. The ability to apply cultural theory and other hypotheses outside the classroom as been my favourite outcome.
  • Find the process of developing a theory fascinating. Interesting to see the explanations without knowing all the answers as theories are deduced. Applicability to humans is also interesting.
  • the course is awesome (sad its over). Life is geeat (If I do well) and the unvierse is cool. Thank! Hope to take another of your courses.
  • Such an interesting course! Concepts are easy to grasp. Usiing only pictures on the slides and you personally talking and explaining the concept or idea helps not forgetting them!
  • Great course! Actually enjoyed studying for this. See you next semester
  • I found the course awesome and an interesting area of study
  • Darwinian puzzles! Interesting and fun to study reason behind such odd behavious. Cute animals!
  • This course has been the best taught and most interesting to me
  • Thanks for the course and the knowledge
  • inspires wonder
  • Great Course! Fun Class
  • My favourite thing about this class was your teaching and your dedication, you looked over all the midterms yourself to make sure they were marked well, not every professor would do that and I appreciate it. I look forward to having you for pesticides next semester.
  • Thanks for everything that was taught to me in this course/. Thank you for a great semester!
  • Prof is animated makes getting up more fun
  • Nothing to complain about the course contents or the way it present. The course is an excelllent comparative biology on the origin of behaviour between species and human.
  • I greatly enjoyed how the lecture material is conveyed. It is very clear concise and interesting. Good exmaples and videos. The interaction when questions were asked was very helpful. 
  • Thanks for a great class!
  • Interesting subject.  Videos are helpful to see aspects learnt in class in real life scenario.
  • This is probably the most I’ve learnt in a BIO class in my time being here.  I remember stuff from the first week and the content actually makes me excited to attend class.
  • Really interesting and entertaining lectures.  Going over ideal mid-term answers helps me to better prepare for the final.   P.s. you seem much more comfortable in English.  Your jokes and impersonations are much funnier.  It’s nice to see you in your natural habitat. :o)
  • Personally, I loved the class, it was interesting, easy to follow and the examples made things very clear.  Overall, loved the class, great prof, very enthusiastic.
  • Prof was very outgoing, which allowed this course to be more interesting than dull.
  • The course material was very interesting but at times can be a lot of information to take in.
  • I liked the fact that a sample midterm was posted so that students could prepare ahead of time fo rthe questions which would be asked.  Going over the midterm answers in class with the professor’s expectation for the answer and then having a student who received full marks read theirs was very helpful.  
  • Course material is very interesting.  Professor teaches at a very good pace.  Material is straight out of textbook which is good.  I like how only figures are in the notes, it forces you to write.
  • This class is very interesting, the explanations are clear and the rhythm is at a good speed.  
  • The course is very interesting. It’s a lot of fun too.  The movies are great examples that illustrate the notions seen in class. The articles we read are also very useful, the fact that we interpret them together has helped a lot.  Surprisingly, there are very few other classes in the Faculty of Science that teach students how to properly interpret an article.  Keep it up!
  • The course material is very interesting, the professor is very entertaining and presents the material in a very fun and informative manner.  I really enjoyed the class overall.  No complaints, thank you for an amazing class.
  • Dr. Brown is an extremely effective professor who really tries to stimulate us and cement important concepts.  It say a lot about him that we not only had the opportunity to have a guest lecturer from UofT but that he gave his TAs the opportunity to give us a lecture and hone their skills.  The exam seemed a bit long so I personally rushed my final answers, but that might just be my own thing.  I am very impressed.  I wish his honour’s course was 9 credits instead of 3!
  • I find the course very interesting.  The subject matter is always conveyed very effectively and the use of other types of media helps with the learning.
  • I really enjoy this class, the lectures and the textbook is great.
  • I love everything about this class, the topics are interesting and your teaching makes it even more. I have nothing negative to say, you are the best teacher I have ever had.
  • This is the 3rd class I have taken with you as a prof and each class I can see the improvement in the teaching and organization of the class.   The subject matter of the course is interesting and is conveyed effectively.
  • You managed to teach in such a way that is conducive to see methodology of testing, which is a rare thing in profs often, so that’s a plus. Also, clearly put a lot of energy into lectures and as you clearly like the material and it shows.
  • Professor Brown is an excellent lecturer. Conveys material clearly. Class is extremely interesting.  Midterm was well-written and closely reflected what was discussed in class.  Textbook is a great choice, it follows almost exactly what we do in class.  Love this class!  Undergrad Guide to Success is really useful, I wish I had something like it in first year.
  • Nothing could be improved, perfect as is!
  • Very interesting course, professor is easy to listen to and communicates the subject and what he wants from students effectively.  I liked how it was a smaller class.
  • The professor was very enthusiastic about the teaching material which made it more interesting to learn.
  • I think you are awesome.  Really funny, very enthusiastic and you convey the subject matter effectively.
  • I liked the subject material. The teaching was excellent, very coherent and explained thoroughly.
  • Enjoyed the class very much.  Everything is laid out very nicely. I wouldn’t change anything :o)
  • LOVE this class. Subject material is so interesting and the flow from one topic to the next is logical and easy to follow.  Textbook is a great read and helps very much in clarifying things that are hazy when in lecture.  Your teaching is awesome – if I had one more year here I’d definitely take another course taught by you.  Keep it up. :o)
  • Love the teaching methods, very interesting to listen to.  Interesting content/subject.


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