Congratulations! You are almost done with a whole semester of biology! We have learned several important key concepts by now. We have learned about cells, tissues, organisms, and even some interactions between them. We have also learned some basic skills, like making graphs out of data, what peer-reviewed research looks like, and experimental design. Today is your chance to make predictions and gather data about the ecological community around your campus! What is behavior? Behaviour is the result of decisions made by animals. To behave is to respond to a situation that has a choice, by making a choice. A rock rolling down a hill is not behaviour, because the rock is not choosing to roll. However, a squirrel foraging in the open grass is behaviour, because the squirrel has a choice of many places to forage. Animal behaviour is rich with interactions and fascinating stories. There are many unexplored frontiers in the science of animal behaviour (and plant behavior?!). In today’s lab, we will try to gather data on the behavior of some species that live around campus. This should be very challenging, but very fun! Tomorrow, you will present your findings and describe what you think you have found!
How do we measure behavior? Behavior is a famously difficult thing to quantify. For example, let’s suppose your friend drops their cell phone on the floor. You watch the event happen, and you instantly know that your friend is a) frustrated and b) concerned. These are two “behaviours” your are familiar with. How would you quantify this? How would you measure the behaviour that you call “frustrated”? Why can’t we just check a box that says “frustrated” and call it a day?
If we are gathering data for use in a scientific context, we need a more rigorous way to measure behaviour. One way is to observe a subjects small actions that lead you to interpret the complete behaviour. For example, suppose your friend stomps their foot when they are mad. Foot-stomps are quantifiable and comparable. If your friend stomps their foot twice, you might say they are twice as “frustrated”. Of course one single measure is not enough to describe a complex behaviour such as “frustration”, but it starts to turn something like “frustration” into measurable, useful data.
How do we measure the data in an experiment? Let’s use the example above, the measurement of foot-stomps as an indication of frustration. One way to gather data is to take measurements before the stimulus. The stimulus in this case is the phone dropping on the floor. If you knew when the phone was going to drop, you could measure their behavior before the event and compare it to their behaviour after the event. We call these time periods pre and post, because they occur pre-event and post-event
Once we have gathered this data, we can subtract the “pre” data from the “post”. This is a simple way of controlling for the normal amount of the behavior occurring without the stimulus (there are many ways of of doing this). If we subtract the pre-data from the post, we can say that the net change in behaviour was 2 foot stomps. This is one way we will measure behavioural change in this lab.
Our campus is surrounded by a mosaic of different plants and animals. Since this college is built within an olive orchard, you can easily find non-native olive trees growing next to native oaks, madrones, and manzanitas. You can also find non-native eucalyptus in tall stands along the canyon. There is a diversity of microhabitats to explore. We will be focusing on the easiest to observe vertebrates around campus, the birds, and how they interact within these microhabitats. Measuring behaviour can take a long time for some species. Lucky for us, birds have incredibly high metabolisms and must be active all day or risk starving!
We will focus on two hypotheses for this lab. Hypothesis 1 is relating the territoriality of birds. Hypothesis 2 is measuring the microhabitat preference of birds. Your instructor will dictate which hypothesis you will focus on.
When you are done gathering data, find the mean and other useful statistics to help interpret your results. Also make a graph of your findings. Delegate tasks within your group to those who are familiar with making graphs and finding simple statistics. Tomorrow, you will present your findings to the class. Remember, the other members of the class are not familiar with your hypothesis. Your presentation will include
Background of the system and taxa you studied
What is your experiment describing?
What is your hypothesis? What is your prediction?
How did you conduct your experiment?
What are the results? Show your graph and your interpretation of the results.
Delegate tasks within your group to those who can do each job. This is due tomorrow! Some group members can help with the presentation, others can make a graph, and others can explain the experiment.
Example of a very nice graph
Bird Species and Vocalizations
Mixed Flock Species
Single Pair Species
Dark-eyed Junco Try finding them around the courtyard