Ecology and behavioural ecology

A.Y. 2020/2021
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The course is organized in two parts: the first one (Ecology) mainly concerns the basic principles useful for the description and understanding of ecosystems and the second one (Ethology) deals specifically with the functions and evolution of the main animal behaviours. The main objectives of the ecology module are aimed at acquiring the basic tools for knowing how to describe ecosystems in their abiotic and biotic components. These tools should provide the student with the interpretative keys to understand the problems due to anthropic effects and therefore to hypothesize possible solutions. The ethology module will provide the students with the knowledge of the role of animal behaviours under an eco-evolutionary perspective, and the scientific methods necessary to design and execute a behavioural study.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the ecology part it is expected that students have learned how ecosystems work in nature (energy flow and biogeochemical cycles), as well as simple tools for population monitoring and surveying chemical-physical parameters of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. At the end of the ethology part the student is expected to acquire the knowledge of the adaptive role of animal behaviours, the appropriate scientific terminology of the discipline, as well as the ability to understand and critically discuss the main topics of behavioural ecology reported in the literature.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
The course of Ethology in the first semester of the academic year 2020/2021 will be realized in the on line modality by the Microsoft Teams platform
Prerequisites for admission
Basic knowledge in chemistry, physics, mathematics, zoology and botany.
Assessment methods and Criteria
The exam includes two tests in progress: one for Ecology and the other for Ethology which will be carried out in written mode. The final grade results from the average of the scores obtained in the two tests weighted for the respective credits.
Course syllabus
Introduction to ecology: the biological control of the geochemical environment, the Gaia hypothesis;
The concept of ecosystem, biotic and abiotic components, production and decomposition, general properties, examples and classification of the ecosystems;
Energy flux through the ecosystem: entropy law, productivity in the ecosystems, methods for measuring the productivity; food chain, food web and trophic levels, ecological pyramids;
Biogeochemical cycles: general description, qualitative and quantitative approaches; classification of cycles, and examples, nutrients cycling in the tropics, the recycle index and turnover time;
Limiting factors: Liebig's low of the minimum and Shelford's low and consequences, analysis of the most important limiting factors: temperature, water, biogenic salts, light, pH, wind, fire, currents etc;
Organisms and the environment: factor compensation and ecotypes, concepts of habitat, ecological niche;
Populations and the environment: static and dynamic properties, r- and K-strategy, aggregation and Allee's principle, interactions among populations.
Community: species diversity, communities in geographical gradients, ecotones and concept of edge effect
Development of the ecosystems: the strategy of ecosystem development, concept of the climax, types of climax and ecosystem developments.
Teaching methods
The course is mainly carried out through classroom lessons integrated with guided exercises to be performed in computer classroom, laboratory experiences and lessons in the field.
Teaching Resources
M.L. Cain, W.D. Bowman, S. D. Hacker (2017). Ecologia. Piccin Nuova Libraria, Padova.
Behavioural ecology
Course syllabus
History of ethology
Proximate and ultimate causes of animal behaviour
Introduction to natural and sexual selection
Study of behaviour under a Darwinian perspective and methods of investigation
The study of behaviour applied animal conservation, human behaviour and evolutionary biology
Genes and behaviour
Environment and behaviour
Behavioural optimization and costs-benefits balance
Survival and competition: predators-prey interactions and foraging
Territoriality: resource competition and territory defence
Life in a group, altruism and sociality
Sex conflict and sexual selection
Evolution of mating systems, parent-offspring conflict, and parental care
Teaching methods
The course will be based on interactive lectures supported by projected material. The student will be involved in actively participating in the discussion to improve their critical skills, to develop the acquired concepts and to communicate the concepts appropriately.
Teaching Resources
Alcock J. (2007) Etologia. Un approccio evolutivo. Zanichelli
in alternative
Rubenstein D.R. e Alcock J. (2020) Etologia. Un approccio evolutivo. Zanichelli
Behavioural ecology
BIO/07 - ECOLOGY - University credits: 6
Lessons: 48 hours
BIO/07 - ECOLOGY - University credits: 9
Practicals with elements of theory: 12 hours
Lessons: 64 hours