ABG-50806 Ecology of Animal Life Histories


Studiepunten 6.00

Individual Paper
Excursion (one day)7
Independent study
Course coordinator(s)prof. dr. ME Visser
Lecturer(s)dr K Lessells (NIOO-KNAW)
prof. dr. ME Visser
dr. ir. P Bijma
dr. CHJ van Oers
Examiner(s)prof. dr. ME Visser
dr K Lessells (NIOO-KNAW)

Language of instruction:



Note: This course has a maximum number of participants. The deadline for registration is one week earlier than usual. See Academic Year.(http://www.wur.nl/en/Education-Programmes/Current-Students/Agenda-Calendar-Academic-Year.htm) -> Registration for Courses.

This course is one of two courses offered about the evolution of life histories. This course (ABG-50806) is an advanced course which is intended primarily for masters students and has a limited number of participants. It focuses on understanding concepts and ideas, and applying them in the design of experiments. The other course (BHE-50306) is intended for undergraduates, and forms part of the minor in wildlife biology, and focuses on acquiring basic knowledge and understanding of life history theory
The life histories of organisms are made up of characteristics such as the number of offspring that they produce, the amount of energy they invest in each offspring, the age at which they start reproducing, and the sex ratio of their offspring. These characteristics have an important influence on the genetic fitness of organisms and we therefore expect them to be subject to strong natural selection and to have evolved in relation to the organism's environment. Knowledge of life history concepts is crucial for a wide range of fields. Endocrine and other physiological mechanisms cannot be fully understood without taking into account the related life history traits, and studies of animal personalities and conflicts of interest between parents and offspring have direct relevance in understanding human behaviour. A life history framework is essential in predicting the ecological consequences of large-scale global change. In this course we focus on the basic concepts underlying life history theory. Students will explore these ideas and learn to design experiments. Topics that are covered include:
- life history trade-offs (e.g. reproduction reduces the survival chances of an individual); mechanisms underlying these trade-offs; mechanisms underlying plasticity in life histories; animal personalities.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- recall key concepts related to the evolution of life-histories (including: the existence of different kinds of explanation for biological characteristics ('Tinbergen's 4 whys'); trade-offs; phenotypic plasticity; measurements of fitness);
- apply these key concepts to the evolution of life-history phenomena;
- critically appraise evolutionary explanations for life-history phenomena;
- formulate clear questions related to life-history phenomena;
- think up alternative hypotheses for life-history phenomena;
- understand the need for experiments in measuring or testing causal hypotheses concerning life-history phenomena;
- design experiments to test between alternative hypotheses for life-history phenomena;
- develop and explain, both in writing and verbally, a research project on a life-history phenomenon.


- attendance to all activities is compulsory.
- lectures, discussions of papers and problem solving in teams, field excursion, group work to design research on a specific life history question with feedback sessions, and a day of student presentations at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW).


Students are assessed on the following:
- individual paper (50%);
- oral exam (50%).
Minimum mark for paper and for oral exam is 5.5 .


Will be handed out during course.