Primate Behavioral Ecology Lab Courses


Class Synopsis:

Primates represent diverse species from those with with pair bonds (e.g. humans, gibbons, tamarins) to those that live in large promiscuous groups (e.g. baboons, howler monkeys). This course introduces the Order Primates and focuses on understanding why primates behave as they do. We will focus largely on the interface between behavior and ecology. Within a theoretical framework that is both comparative and evolutionary, we will explore such topics as primate sociality, foraging, female and male reproductive strategies, life histories, communication, cognition, and interactions between primates and other organisms (plants and animals) within their larger ecological communities. We will consider how basic principles of ecology can help us to understand these and other aspects of primate behavior. Finally, because most primate species are threatened or endangered, we will also consider important survival threats facing primates and strategies for their conservation. Ultimately, this course will give you a solid understanding of what it means to be a primate, and make you better aware of our own place within the Order Primates and the comparative context within which unique aspects of human behavior evolved.

Biological Basis of Human Behavior

Class Synopsis:

Are humans so special? We all have a fundamental interest in human behavior and understanding how we evolved to be such a unique (or not) species. In this class, we will examine the biological basis of human behavior. We will consider human behavior from ecological, biological, and evolutionary perspectives. Key topics include dietary choices, parenting, conflict and cooperation, sexual reproduction, the human mind, and culture. For each, we will consider our own behavior in comparison to our closest living relatives, the non- human primates, to see where we fall in the primate continuum. At the end of the class, you will have a firm understanding of how humans evolved, if and how we are unusual, and if and how we are predictable.

Evolution of Human Parenting

Class Synopsis:

As any parent can attest, raising human babies requires a lot of work! Across the mammalian taxa, our own species is one of the most dependent. We have evolved some unusual features that allow us to reproduce, including bi-parental care, extended family networks, and allocare by non-parents. In this class, we will explore parental behavior from an evolutionary perspective. We will review parental care across the mammalian taxa and general concepts in parental investment and parent-offspring conflict. We will then focus on parenting in the human lineage, from theories in early hominins to patterns in hunter-gatherers to the modern context. This is an upper level class so the format will be discussion-based and students are responsible for in-class presentations that will supplement the required reading.

Conservation in a Changing World: Human and Animal Behavior

Class Synopsis:

The goal of this course is to introduce students to research on how humans and animals interact, in order to understand conservation and policy.  Accomplishing scientifically sound, yet socially and economically acceptable conservation of biodiversity will be a key challenge over the next 50 years.  People and animals interact in a wide variety of settings, ranging from rural areas in developing countries to urban environments.  In this class, we will consider what types of interactions occur, the impact those interactions hve on behavior (of animals and people), and how to ensure human and animal welfare in each of these environments.  The course will culminate with group research, presentations, and structured discussions on how interactions with humans have influenced a species in recent history, and student recommendations for conservation policies going forward. 



**Dr. Murray is also teaching graduate-level seminars in Public Understanding of Science and Problem-Based Learning