The Social Behaviour of Vertebrates I

Type of instruction




Part of degree program


Recommended in

Semesters 1-4

Typically offered in

Autumn/Spring semester

Course description

1. Communication 1. What is communication?; Signalers, signals and receivers. Visual communication: origin of the plumage of birds. The functions of plumage coloration. Communication by colorful bare skin (bill, legs).

2. Communication 2. Visual communication of fishes. Mammals: the evolution of horns and antlers. Primates: sex skin.

3. Communication 3. Visual communication. UV vision and communication. Poisonous animals and the aposematic coloration. Human visual attractiveness (face, waist/hip ratio, fluctuating asymmetries).

4. Communication 4. Acoustic communication. Sounds under the water: fishes. The cetacean acoustic communication. Frogs and toads: the first noisy vertebrates. Sound production: benefits and costs.  

5. Communication 5. Acoustic communication. Songs and calls: birds. Timing of singing activity. The dual function of bird song. Alarm calls.

6. Communication 6. Olphactory communication. Benefits and costs. Territorial defence by scent marking. The economy of marking.

7. Communication 7. Human pheromones; role of the body odor in the sexuality. The sense of electric field: fishes.

8. Sexual selection 1. Theories since Darwin. The main mechanisms of sexual selection.

9. Sexual selection 2. Intrasexual competition. The resource holding potential (RHP) and its assessment in fishes, birds and mammals. Asymmetries in RHP and its consequences.  

10. Sexual selection 3.  The body size: fishes, amphibians and reptiles. When the smaller body size is adaptive:water turtles. RHP-asymmetries and the reproductive success. Physiological signals for dominance: the musth in elephant bulls.

11. Sexual selection 4. The honest advertisement of RHP. The territory asymmetry rule. Does the owner always win?  

12. Sexual selection 5. Alternative reproductive strategies. Fishes: residents, sneakers, satellites. Frogs and toads: reproductive parasites. Birds: the ruff. Queuing for reproductive opportunities. Sex-changing fishes.  

13. Sexual selection 6. Mate choice. Female choice. Why do females usually choose a partner? Evidence for the active mate choice. Benefits of the mate choice. Costs of mate search.

14. Sexual selection 7.  Female choice. Mate choice for direct benefits: Territory quality, good male parents, protective males, avoiding infestation. Large body size: fertility benefits..

15. Sexual selection 8.  Male choice. Large females, virgin females. Mutual mate choice. Female contests. Evolution of the concealed ovulation, the menopause, the menstruation and the permanent sexual activity. 


  • 1. Michl, G (2003) A Birders’ Guide to the Behaviour of European and North American Birds. Gavia Science.

  • 2. Godin, J-G. (1997) Behavioural Ecology of Teleost Fishes. Oxford UP.

  • 3. Macdonalds, D. (1996) The New Encyclopaedia of Mammals. Oxford UP.