Fall 2004

SCIE 625
Animal Communication


09/13/2004 - 12/18/2004
Tuesday 06:00 PM - 08:30 PM

Science Tower 141

What are animals saying to one another? The animal world is brimming with hoots, growls, chirps, and clicks, as well as flashes of colors, blinking lights, and elaborate scents. What kinds of information are animals capable of transmitting to each other, and how far have humans advanced in decoding all of this information? The study of animal communication crosses the boundaries of numerous disciplines in the natural sciences including: behavior, ecology, evolution, sensory perception, and neurobiology, and this course will touch on all these approaches to the study of communication. A basic understanding of how animal communication systems are organized and function will change what you hear and see in your environment.

This course is an overview of the ecology and evolution of signal design and function. We cover communication systems in insects, frogs, birds, fish, and terrestrial and marine mammals. The focus is on acoustic, visual, and chemical communication, including communication channels that are outside our own range of perception (infrasound, ultrasound, ultraviolet, etc.). Some of the specific topics addressed include nature versus nurture (the role of learning) in communication systems, the relationship between animal communication systems and human language, sex differences and seasonal changes in neural substrates underlying communication systems, manipulation vs. honest signaling, and social organization through signaling, as well as ecoding "complex"

vocal communication systems of dolphins, whales, and songbirds.

Course readings include journal articles and excerpts from S. L. Hopp and C. S. Evans, ACOUSTIC COMMUNICATION IN ANIMALS, W. J. Smith, THE BEHAVIOR OF COMMUNICATING: AN ETHOLOGICAL APPROACH, J. Bradbury and S. Vehrencamp, PRINCIPLES OF ANIMAL COMMUNICATION, and M. D. Hauser, THE EVOLUTION OF COMMUNICATION.

In addition to active participation in class discussion, students will write brief weekly responses to readings and a final research proposal on a topic of interest, in some aspect of animal communication. The research proposal will involve reading a set of the literature that you find interesting, developing some ideas for future research in this area (what questions would you like to see answered), and then proposing how this research could be carried out. Students will also be required to make a brief presentation of the research proposal in class at the end of the term.

Carolyn Pytte (B.A. Princeton University; M.S. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Ph.D. Indiana University) is postdoctoral research

associate in biology at Wesleyan University. She is coauthor of ?Regulation of vocal amplitude in the blue-throated hummingbird

(Lampornis clemenciae),? Animal Behaviour (2003), and she has published in the journals Somatosensory and Motor Research, Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurobiology, NeuroReport, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London, and The Condor . Her research on songbird neurology has made headlines in the recent press; for more information, visit:



Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:

Please Note: A course packet will be available for purchase at Minuteman Press, 512 Main Street, Middletown, CT (860) 347-5700.

Register for Courses

Contact glsinquire@wesleyan.edu to submit comments or suggestions. 
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