Topics in Behavioural Biology (NESC and PSYO 4160) & Comparative Psychology (PSYO 6160)

Winter term 2021

Lectures: Online, synchronous, using Microsoft Teams, Tuesdays, 14:30 to 16:30 (Halifax time).


Instructor Office # Office hours email Phone #
Dr. Simon Gadbois LSC 3326 by appointment: Zoom or Teams 902–494–8848

† e-mail communications: When sending an email to Dr. Gadbois please add “4160” or "6160” to the subject line.

Course Description and Course Prerequisites

For undergraduate students:

PSYO/NESC 4160: Topics in Behavioural Biology
CROSSLISTED: NESC 4160.03 and PSYO 4160.03
FORMATS: Seminar

For graduate students:

PSYO 6160: Comparative psychology
FORMAT: Seminar

Course Objectives/Learning Outcomes

The seminar will focus on topics and research in fundamental and applied animal behaviour relating mostly (but not exclusively) to conceptual breakthroughs and new trends in both behavioural biology (sensory ecology, cognitive ecology/ethology, neuroecology/neuroethology, socioecology, etc.) and comparative psychology (animal psychophysics, animal cognition with the exception of animal learning, etc.). For students (most likely undergraduate students) that took “Advanced Animal Behaviour” (PSYO/NESC 3162) with Dr. Gadbois, you can consider this class a natural follow-up to that course, but it also goes beyond the focus of 3162 (social behaviour and communication).

The topics will flexible and adapted to the interests of the class. Topics will be chosen by the students from the following list:

  1. The science of animal domestication: Physiological, behavioural and psychological changes.
  2. Biological clocks: Circannual patterns and/or Zeitgebers
  3. Eusociality (in mammals, insects, etc.)
  4. Comparative sensory systems
  5. Brain evolution
  6. Spatial orientation, navigation, and cognitive maps
  7. Echolocation: Bats, cetaceans, shrews, birds (oilbirds, swiftlets), tenrec, hedgehogs
  8. Predator odours (preys as receivers)
  9. Clutch size and life history phenomena: Evolutionary and ecological significance
  10. Hormonal control of behaviour
  11. Game theory
  12. Information theory
  13. Coolidge effect
  14. Psychophysical laws and principles in animal sensory processing
  15. Inclusive fitness and altruism
  16. Harlow’s monkeys: Social isolation
  17. Tool use; Primates, corvids, etc
  18. Territorial behaviour
  19. Sperm competition
  20. Reciprocal altruism
  21. Selfish herds and flocks and public information, and the “Many eyes hypothesis”
  22. Red Queen Models, evolutionary arm races, predator-prey (or parasite/host) co-evolution
  23. New models on animal conflicts
  24. Ethograms, time budgets and sampling methods
  25. Parent-offspring conflict
  26. Group selection
  27. The handicap principle
  28. Self-medication/zoopharmacognosy
  29. Polyandry
  30. Monogamy
  31. Family-based social systems (e.g., Emlen et al.)
  32. Dispersal
  33. Semantic communication (in primates and non-primates; zoosemiotic theory)
  34. Risk-sensitive foraging and the Risk Paradigm
  35. Prisoner’s dilemma
  36. Producers and scroungers
  37. Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis
  38. Cooperative breeding and reproductive skew (or other phenomena)
  39. Brood parasitism
  40. The Challenge Hypothesis (Wingfield et al., 1990)
  41. Receiver psychology (Guilford and Dawkins, 1991)
  42. Ecosystem engineers and/or niche construction (Jones et al., 1994 and Laland)
  43. Self-organization of social systems
  44. Gaze following
  45. Affective neuroscience and ethology: Fear (e.g., Ledoux; Brown et al., 1999), pair bonding, etc.
  46. Behavioural syndromes
  47. Maternal epigenetics
  48. Public vs. Private information
  49. Keystone individuals
  50. Role theory of social organization

The course integrates both comparative (animal) psychology perspectives and biological perspectives (from ethology/neuroethology, behavioural ecology).
The adoption of topics will be flexible and adapted to the interests of the class.

Course Materials

Assigned readings; presentations from students.

Course assessments


The letter grade equivalents of numerical grades are shown below (from the Dalhousie Common Grade Scale). For 6160, please see the graduate calendar. Grades are not negotiable.

F D C- C C+ B- B B+ A- A A+
0–49 50–54 55–59 60–64 65–69 70–72 73–76 77–79 80–84 85–89 90–100


PRESENTATIONS DATES (due dates) % of total grade
Presentation 1 see schedule below 40%
Presentation 2 see schedule below 40%
Evaluation from peers day of presentations 10%
Participation, leading discussions, etc. 10%
Attendance Mandatory: SDA with medical excuse necessary when class is missed; must make arrangements for alternative date or switch.
Slide decks Friday, April 9 Mandatory submission via a dedicated Dropbox

Rubric used to assess the presentations by Dr. Gadbois and your peers:

20/19 18/17 16/15 14/13 12/11 10< Points
Exceptional Excellent Good Adequate Poor Very poor
Organization, structure, flow, clarity, consistency in formatting, and spelling. /20
Topic mastery, comprehension, ability to answer questions. /20
Analysis and critical assessment/discussion. /20
Synthesis and integration of the themes and topics. /20
Creativity and originality in content and presentation. /20
Presentation skills, engagement, autonomy from (presenter) notes. /20


The schedule of presentations will follow the following schedule (to be filled/updated with names).
Note that the 2-presentation model was chosen for the Winter of 2021 based on the number of students enlisted. Each presentation will be maximum 20 minutes, plus 10 minutes for questions and discussion.

Dates Menu/presenters
January 12 Organizational meeting and introduction; Displays, ritualization and emancipation
January 19 Gadbois: The four C’s of modern (neuro)ethology and neuroethics: Cognition, Complexity, Conation and Culture, part 1
January 26 Gadbois: The four C’s of modern (neuro)ethology and neuroethics: Cognition, Complexity, Conation and Culture, part 2
February 2 1, 2, 3, 4
February 9 5, 6, 7, 8
February 16 Reading week
February 23 9, 10, 11, 12
March 2 13, 14
March 9 1, 2, 3, 4
March 16 5, 6, 7, 8
March 23 9, 10, 11, 12
March 30 13, 14
April 6 Overflow; wrap-up

Course Policies


All the information you need is at and below. It is your responsibility to read, understand and respect the guidelines presented there. Make sure you understand the concept of “self-plagiarism”: you are not allowed to “recycle” papers or other projects submitted in other courses or from this course if you took it before.

Missing lectures and presentations from others:

All lectures are mandatory and absences will be noted and will influence your 10% for “Participation, leading discussions and debates, etc.” noted above. The percentage of missed classes will be reflected in deductions from that 10% of the course.

Missing your own presentation:

Students who miss their own presentation day due to debilitating distress or illness, must print, complete, and sign the STUDENT DECLARATION OF ABSENCE then deliver it (in person) to Dr Gadbois within 3 days of the absence (including weekends and holidays).

This form may only be used a maximum of two (2) times throughout the term and may only cover three (3) consecutive days of absence.

This form may NOT be used for absences lasting more than three (3) consecutive days.

For long-term or chronic absences please speak with either:

Missed deadlines:

Electronic copies need to be submitted on time (PDF formats). Days missed include weekend days and holidays.

University Policies and Statements

This course is governed by the academic rules and regulations set forth in the University Calendar and by Senate.

Academic Integrity

At Dalhousie University, we are guided in all of our work by the values of academic integrity: honesty, trust, fairness, responsibility and respect (The Center for Academic Integrity, Duke University, 1999). As a student, you are required to demonstrate these values in all of the work you do. The University provides policies and procedures that every member of the university community is required to follow to ensure academic integrity.
Online information here.


The Advising and Access Services Centre is Dalhousie’s centre of expertise for student accessibility and accommodation. The advising team works with students who request accommodation as a result of a disability, religious obligation, or any barrier related to any other characteristic protected under Human Rights legislation (Canada and Nova Scotia).
Online information here.

Student Code of Conduct

Everyone at Dalhousie is expected to treat others with dignity and respect. The Code of Student Conduct allows Dalhousie to take disciplinary action if students don’t follow this community expectation. When appropriate, violations of the code can be resolved in a reasonable and informal manner—perhaps through a restorative justice process. If an informal resolution can’t be reached, or would be inappropriate, procedures exist for formal dispute resolution.
Code online.

Diversity and Inclusion – Culture of Respect

Every person at Dalhousie has a right to be respected and safe. We believe inclusiveness is fundamental to education. We stand for equality. Dalhousie is strengthened in our diversity. We are a respectful and inclusive community. We are committed to being a place where everyone feels welcome and supported, which is why our Strategic Direction prioritizes fostering a culture of diversity and inclusiveness
Statement online.

Recognition of Mi’kmaq Territory

Dalhousie University would like to acknowledge that the University is on Traditional Mi’kmaq Territory. The Elders in Residence program provides students with access to First Nations elders for guidance, counsel and support. Visit or e-mail the Indigenous Student Centre (1321 Edward St;
Online information here.

Important Dates in the Academic Year (including add/drop dates)

Important dates online

University Grading Practices

Grading practices online.

Missed or Late Academic Requirements due to Student Absence (policy)

SDA policies online

Student Resources and Support


Academic supports

Other supports and services