Evolution, Behavior, and Ecology

The purpose of this course is to give you a fundamental understanding of the conceptual framework that biologists use to make sense of the complexity and diversity of organisms. We use evolutionary theory to explain the adaptations of organisms for survival and reproduction in their abiotic, biotic, and social environments, and to explain the historical development of organisms (their phylogeny) and their current diversity. This course will examine the "big picture" of biology, and will provide the theoretical basis for placing in a broader context information about other aspects of biology. Because the big picture comprises many smaller pictures, my approach will be to illustrate concepts with a considerable amount of practical information about how organisms function in a physiological and morphological sense and in a behavioral and ecological sense. Our interpretations of the design of organisms will be based on the process of evolution as an active, pervasive, and powerful force.

Instructor: Steven Goldsmith; Moody Science 314; ext. 2204; box 61611; sgoldsmith@austincollege.edu
Office Hours: Tu 9:30am - 11:00am; Th 1:30pm - 3:00pm

Steven Goldsmith's home page

Text and images copyright 2004 Steven Goldsmith. Last modified 14 September 2005

Pertinent readings for the first exam:

Darwin, 1859, on reserve
Chapter 1
Chapters 21, 22, and 23

The PowerPoints:

Introduction Speciation Mechanisms Introduction to Behavior Social Behavior 1 Biomes
Natural Selection Phylogeny Communication Social Behavior 2 Tolerances and population growth
Hardy Weinberg Deep Phylogeny Sexual Selection
Niche and Competition
Reproductive Isolating Mechanisms Primate Evolution Mating Systems
Fast-food restaurants
Darwin's Antecedents Human Evolution Human Mating Behavior
Predation and succession


Handouts and other items


Quizzes and related items

Hardy Weinberg Equilibrium handout The Library Assignment Sample Exam Questions
Electronic Reserve in Abell Library The Animal Behavior Observations assignment
My Advice The Animal Behavior Observation example
Field site directions

Scroll down the page here:

Sources of Information Academic Integrity Examinations Library Assignment Animal Behavior Observations Schedule of topics Critters of the day

An Evolution and Ecology link:

Nature: Evolution and Ecology

Links to web sites on human evolution:

Nature: Focus on Human Origins

Long Foreground

Harvard MCB

Fossil Hominids FAQ

Hominid Evolution

The Keeled Green Snake, Opheodrys aestivus, is an arboreal snake common in the southeastern US.  It is cryptically colored, prefers brushy edge habitats like stream and lake shores, and feeds on spiders, caterpillars, and other soft-bodied invertebrates. This photograph was taken in October 1999, at the Kerr Arboretum in LeFlore County, OK.

Sources of Information: The required textbook for this course is Raven et al, Biology, 7th edition. Ours is a customized version of a larger general biology text, which includes the chapters that are most pertinent to the content of this course. There are additional readings of original or secondary scientific literature that bear directly on particular topics. These are listed on the syllabus and are on reserve in the library. The lecture sessions are obviously an important source of information. In the lectures, I will strive to make no assumptions about your prior knowledge of biology in general or of the subject matter of this course in particular, but I may sometimes get carried away and talk about things that you know nothing about. If I do this, please stop me and ask me to explain. I encourage you to record the lectures if you wish to do so.

Academic Integrity and Attendance: I assume that you have read, understand, and abide by the Statement on Academic Integrity as published in the student handbook Environment. I also assume that you will attend each class meeting. This is for your own benefit. I have found that much information comes from informal discussion during class meetings, and that much exchange of information that is of interest is a result of responses to questions and not from formal lecture material.

This photograph was taken near Blue Creek Village, Orange Walk District, Belize, in August 1997. This is a long-horned grasshopper, which when disturbed displayed these striking colors. What is the function of this color pattern?


Examinations: There will be four hour exams (Friday 23 September, Friday 17 October, Friday 4 November, and Friday 2 December), and an optional comprehensive final (12:00pm - 2:00pm, Friday, 9 December). The exams will be designed to test simultaneously your knowledge of factual information and your understanding of concepts. I attempt to write questions that make you think about the course material, not merely regurgitate facts. The exams will consist primarily of objective (multiple-choice) and brief essay questions of a sentence or two (for instance definitions of terms), with some longer essays of a paragraph or two. Full-credit answers on essays will consist of logical sequences of clear and concise statements, using proper scientific vocabulary.

No makeup exams will be given. If you must miss an exam for a valid reason, you may arrange to take it early, but only under the most dire and extreme of conditions. The optional final is the "safety valve" for exam performance. You may take the final to replace either a missed hour exam or an hour exam with an unsatisfactory score.

There are a number of variables that affect a student's performance on examinations and in a course. These include obvious things like how much and how effectively a student prepares for exams, whether a student attends class, pays attention, and takes good notes, how well-rested the student is before the exam, and the difficulty of the exam questions. Another important factor that affects performance on exams is experience with a professor's testing style. As a way to give you a chance to gauge how much preparation is necessary and the probable difficulty of exam questions, and as a way to give you some experience with my testing style before it becomes critical, I plan to have a "warm-up" quiz on Wednesday 7 September. This quiz will consist of a small sample of questions of the type that will appear on the subsequent exams. You should view this as an opportunity to learn things that will be valuable later, but students typically don't take things seriously unless there is some point value attached, so this quiz will be worth between 10 and 20 points (the value will be determined as the quiz approaches and I see what questions I want to put on it).

Summary of Grading:

Warm-up quiz 20 points
Library Assignment 15 points
Animal Behavior Observations 75 points
Hour exams 400 points
Optional Final Exam 100 points
Total 510 points

The way I compute grades is as follows:  At the end of the course, each student will have amassed a total number of points which will be a proportion of the total possible.  These proportions are converted to letter grades as follows:

100% - 92.5% = A 87.4% - 82.5% = B 77.4% - 72.5% = C 67.4% - 62.5% = D
92.5% - 90.0% = A-  82.4% - 80.0% = B- 72.4% - 70.0% = C-  62.4% - 60.0% = D-
89.9% - 87.5% = B+ 79.9% - 77.5% = C+ 69.9% - 67.5% = D+ 59.9% - 0% = F


This insect is a parasitoid wasp called Sphecus speciosus, the Cicada Killer wasp. Adult females are about 6 cm long. They find cicadas, sting them to paralyze them, then carry them back to a burrow. The female places the cicada in the burrow, lays an egg on it, and then seals it up. The egg hatches into a wasp larva, which bores into the cicada, feeding on the internal organs, saving the vital organs for last. The wasp larva pupates inside the exoskeleton of the dead cicada, and emerges as an adult wasp the following year. These wasps are active as adults during the summer, at the height of cicada season. This photograph was taken in Sherman, Texas in July 2002.

Library assignment: A critical component of progress in science is the communication of concepts, hypotheses, methods, results, and conclusions among practicing scientists. The most formal means of communication is through peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals. Such articles present original data generated by the authors of the article and the authors' interpretations of their results in light of previously published data. An important skill for students of science is the ability to use the primary or original scientific literature. As a way to foster development of this skill, this course include an exercise that requires you to locate an article in the primary scientific literature, to read it, and to prepare a summary that demonstrates the ability to use the literature and some knowledge of its content. The purposes of this assignment are a) to familiarize you with the physical location in Abell Library of the original scientific literature, b) to acquaint you with the organization of original scientific articles, c) to teach you the proper format for citing original research articles, and d) to give you the opportunity to begin an exploration of the scientific literature that is pertinent to evolution, behavior, and ecology. The content of this assignment is described in detail on a separate handout and on the course web page. This assignment is due on Friday, 30 September and is worth 15 points.

Animal Behavior Observations:  Each student is responsible for making a series of observations of the natural history and behavior of a set of local animal species. This assignment is described in detail on a separate handout and on the course web page. In brief, you will observe five individuals (or groups, in the case of social animals) of each of three animal species, and will observe their behavior in enough detail to generate a brief "interpretive statement" that outlines the apparent adaptive significance of the behavior patterns you observe. The purposes of this exercise are a) to give you some practice in identifying animals, b) to give you some practice at being observant, c) to acquaint you with field biology, d) to give you some knowledge of the role of animals in their ecological communities, and e) to give you an opportunity to apply the conceptual material of this course to actual organisms. The three species must comprise at least two phyla (you can't use only vertebrates). The three sets of observations are due in a series of installments and are worth a total of 75 points. I will provide (see above) an example of the type of observations I expect.

Critters of the day:

Yellow Garden Spider

Three-toed box turtle

Woodhouse's toad


Collared Lizard

Ornate box turtle

Mediterranean gecko


Snow on the Prairie

Red imported fire ant

Lined Snake


Preying Mantis


Field cricket

Tachinid fly



Giant Water Bug

Big Bluestem and Indian Grass


Seed-harvester Ant

Sycamore and Shumard Oak

Schedule of topics

Tentative Lecture Outline

Date Lecture Topic Reading

Wed 31 August Introduction; Levels of Biological Organization Darwin, 1859 (R)
Fri 2 Sept Natural Selection and Adaptation Ch. 1

Mon 5 Sept Natural Selection and Adaptation
Wed 7 Sept Population Genetics and the Meaning of Evolution (Warm-up Quiz) Ch. 22
Fri 9 Sept  Types of Evolutionary Change  Ch. 21

Mon 12 Sept Reproductive Isolating Mechanisms  Ch. 22
Wed 14 Sept Speciation and Macroevolution
Fri 16 Sept  Speciation and Macroevolution

Mon 19 Sept  Phylogeny and systematics  Ch. 23
Wed 21 Sept Phylogeny and systematics
Fri 23 Sept  Exam 1 (covers material through 16 Sept)

Mon 26 Sept Phylogeny and systematics
Wed 28 Sept Human Evolution  Reserve reading
Fri 30 Sept Human Evolution (Library Assignment Due)

Mon 3 Oct  Introduction to Behavior  Ch. 52
Wed 5 Oct Historical Development of Animal Behavior
Fri 7 Oct  Fall Break

Mon 10 Oct  Communication (ABO installment due)
Wed 12 Oct  Sexual Selection, Anisogamy, and Parental Investment  Darwin, 1871 (R)
Fri 14 Oct  Exam 2 (covers material from 19 Sept through 5 Oct)

Mon 17 Oct  Reproductive Competition 
Wed 19 Oct  Mate Choice 
Fri 21 Oct  Mating systems 

Mon 24 Oct  Human reproductive behavior and mating systems
Wed 26 Oct  Social Behavior
Fri 28 Oct Social Behavior

Mon 31 Oct  Social Behavior (ABO installment due)
Wed 2 Nov  Ecology -- biomes and the big picture Ch. 56
Fri 4 Nov  Exam 3 (covers material from 10 Oct through 31 Oct)

Mon 7 Nov  Organisms and the abiotic environment 
Wed 9 Nov  Population growth and population regulation  Ch. 53
Fri 11 Nov  The Ecological Niche Ch. 54

Mon 14 Nov  The Ecological Niche and Community Structure (ABO installment due)
Wed 16 Nov  Adaptive Radiation and Biological Diversity Ch. 28.4
Fri 18 Nov Interspecific Competition

Mon 21 Nov  Predation
Wed 23 Nov  Indirect Interactions

Mon 28 Nov  Disturbance, Succession, and Community Structure
Wed 30 Nov  Food Webs and Ecological Efficiency Ch. 55.2
Fri 2 Dec EXAM IV  (covers material from 2 Nov through 30 Nov)

Mon 5 Dec  Review

FINAL EXAM:   Friday, 9 Dec, 12:00-2:00