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Course, academic year 2023/2024
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Ethology and sociobiology - MB170P106
Title: Ethology and sociobiology
Czech title: Etologie a sociobiologie
Guaranteed by: Department of Zoology (31-170)
Faculty: Faculty of Science
Actual: from 2022
Semester: winter
E-Credits: 5
Examination process: winter s.:oral
Hours per week, examination: winter s.:2/0, C+Ex [HT]
Extent per academic year: 1 [days]
Capacity: unlimited
Min. number of students: 5
4EU+: no
Virtual mobility / capacity: no
State of the course: taught
Language: English
Note: enabled for web enrollment
Guarantor: prof. RNDr. Daniel Frynta, Ph.D.
Teacher(s): doc. Mgr. Alice Exnerová, Ph.D.
RNDr. Petra Frýdlová, Ph.D.
prof. RNDr. Daniel Frynta, Ph.D.
RNDr. Eva Landová, Ph.D.
Annotation -
Last update: prof. RNDr. Daniel Frynta, Ph.D. (05.10.2023)
The course of Ethology and Sociobiology introduces students to the basic concepts of classical ethology, sociobiology and behavioural ecology, and related fields of studies of animal behaviour. After a brief introduction about the history of the discipline, basic concepts and their founders, the lecture focuses on the meaning of the concrete behaviour and the mechanisms of innate instinctive behavioural responses and heritability of behavioural traits. Topics concerning sociobiology and behavioural ecology are arranged according to the three areas of life: 1) positive area (social behaviour, living in a group, cooperation, altruism, eusociality), 2) negative area (aggression, territoriality and conflict) and 3) sexual interactions (social systems, mate choice, parental behaviour). Optimality theories and models, such as optimal foraging theory, optimal territory size and optimal group size will be discussed in these contexts. An important part of the course is focused on basic concepts of learning (imprinting and song learning in birds, classical and operant conditioning, discrimination learning, aversion learning, insight learning, and observation learning). Another topic includes spatial orientation and navigation, antipredatory strategies, perceptual and cognitive mechanisms of prey detection and recognition in predators, and concepts of animal personalities and behavioural syndromes.
The lectures are complemented by a practical course taking place in Prague Zoo during the winter semester, which is focused on the biology and social systems of selected species. The usual financial participation of a student is CZK 200 (the price of student admission to the Prague Zoo). Moreover, in addition to the information given in the lectures students receive selected literature for additional reading, which is annually actualised on Moodle (
The graduates of Ethology and Sociobiology should obtain theoretical fundamentals of classical ethology and sociobiology, which are required for the studies of animal behaviour and following specialised courses of sociobiology and behavioural ecology, animal cognition, neuroethology, and behavioural biology.
Lectures are given in English for Erasmus students (course MB170P106).

In the case of distance learning, the MS Teams platform will be used.
Literature -
Last update: Ing. Jindřiška Peterková (16.02.2018)

Recommended textbooks (obligatory to read at least some chapters):

Krebs J.R. & Davies N.B. 2004: An introduction to behavioural ecology. Third edition. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 420 pp.

Davies N.B., Krebs J.R. & West S.A. 2012: An introduction to behavioural ecology. Fourth edition. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 506 pp.

Pearce JM. 2008. Animal Learning and Cognition. Psychology  Press. New York.

Davies N.B. 1992: Dunnock Behaviour and Social Evolution. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press., 272 pp.

Zupanc, G. K. H. (2004). Behavioral Neurobiology. An Integrative Approach. Oxford University Press. Chapter 2. The study of animal behaviour: a brief history, pages: 16, 18-22, 24-25, 27.

Manning, A., & Dawkins, M. S. (1998). An introduction to animal behaviour. Cambridge University Press. Chapter 1. Introduction, pages: 1 – 31.


Recommended  scientific papers (obligatory):

Tinbergen, N. (1963). On aims and methods of ethology. Ethology, 20(4), 410-433.

Lorenz, K. Z. (1974). Analogy as a source of knowledge. Science, 185(4147), 229-234.

Von Frisch, K. (1974). Decoding the language of the bee. Science, 185(4152), 663-668.

Landová, E., Jančúchová-Lásková, J., Musilová, V., Kadochová, Š., & Frynta, D. (2013). Ontogenetic switch between alternative antipredatory strategies in the leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius): defensive threat versus escape. Behavioral ecology and sociobiology, 67(7), 1113-1122.

Landová, E., Musilová, V., Polák, J., Sedláčková, K., & Frynta, D. (2016). Antipredatory reaction of the leopard gecko Eublepharis macularius to snake predators. Current Zoology, 62(5), 439-450.

Krebs, J. R., Davies, N. B., & Parr, J. (1993). An introduction to behavioural ecology. Blackwell Scientific Publications. Chapter 11. On selfishness and altruism, pages: 265 – 290.

Székely, T., Moore, A., & Komdeur, J. (2010). Social Behaviour: Genes. Ecology and Evolution. Pages: 470 – 473; 489 – 490; 516 – 519.

Taborsky, M. (2013). Social evolution: reciprocity there is. Current Biology, 23(11), R486-R488.

Hamilton, W. D., & Axelrod, R. (1981). The evolution of cooperation. Science, 211(27), 1390-1396.

Further recommended literature (not obligatory):

Birkhead T. 2000: Promiscuity. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 272 pp.

Choe J.C. & Crespi B.J. (eds) 1997: The evolution of social behaviour in insects and arachnids. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 541 pp.

Dawkins R. (1976): The selfish gene, Oxford University Press, 352 pp.

Dawkins R. (1982): The Extended Phenotype. Oxford-San Francisco, 307 pp.Dennett D.C. 1995: Darwin's dangerous idea: evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 587 pp.

Dugatkin L.A., 1997: Cooperation among animals: an evolutionary perspective. Oxford: Oxford Universiity Press, 221 pp.

Höglund J. & Alatalo R., 1995: Leks. Princeton: Princeton University

Lorenz K. 1963: Das Sogenannte Böse. Wien: Verlag Dr. G. Borotha-Schoeler. Česky: Mladá Fronta 1992, 239 pp.

Mock W. & Parker G.A. 1997: The evolution of sibling rivalry. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 464 pp.

Further selected chapters from textbooks and scientific papers for further study according to particular topics are annually actualised on Moodle (

Requirements to the exam -
Last update: Ing. Jindřiška Peterková (18.09.2020)

The course is completed by an  oral exam focused on basic concepts and facts.  The knowledge of  topics covered by the  lectures is assumed as well as selected chapters from recommended literature.  One of articles presented on Moodle student choose for the exam and is commented with details.

In case of bad epidemiological situation, the exam can be performed orally using MS Teams and/or in the form of a test in Moodle.


Last update: Ing. Jindřiška Peterková (16.02.2018)

A list of topics for lectures of Ethology and Sociobiology. Their number and order  does not correspond to the number of consecutive lectures.

1. Introduction, history and theory of the discipline

Ethology, zoopsychology, behavioural ecology, sociobiology, behavioural sciences, proximate and ultimate causes of behaviour, four Tinbergen's questions

2. Behavioural genetics

Ontogenetic factors, innate versus acquired behaviour, experiments testing heritability of behavioural traits, mechanisms of inheritance of behaviour.

3. Advantages of sociality, reciprocal altruism and cooperation

Aggregation as antipredatory strategy. Prisoner's dilemma and similar games. Fate of altruistic mutation. Reciprocal altruism and conditions required for its persistence.  Other types of cooperation.

4. Kin altruism, helpers and family, eusociality

Hamilton's rule, coefficients of relatedness, alarm signals, helping, family and its stability in animals. Social systems in ants, wasps, termites, and eusocial mammals. Theories explaining evolution of eusociality.

5. Infanticide, siblicide and conflict of interests between relatives

Infanticide in langurs, lions and rodents. Siblicide, asynchronous hatching in birds. Parental investment and parental care. Evolution of parental care. Parent-offspring conflict.

6.-7. Aggression, territoriality, and conflict

Defining aggression. Genetic and physiological regulation of aggression. Conflict, territoriality, and hierarchy.Evolutionary stable strategies. Signals and communication.

8. Mating systems, promiscuity, lek

Roles of males and females, sperm competition, promiscuity and its causes, advantages of multiple mating,

9. Polygyny, monogamy, and extrapair paternity. Polyandry and conflict between sexes

Models explaining polygyny, monogamy and paternal investment, correlates of extrapair paternity. Tropical birds. Dunnock as an example of polyandry. Conflict between males and females.

10. Classical ethology

Inherited behavioural patterns, Lorenz, Tinbergen and von Frisch. Innate versus learned.

11. Learning

Associative learning, insight learning, play, aversive learning, taste aversion, imprinting, song learning, spatial cognition, imitation, tradition.

12. Personality in animals

Concepts of personality in animals, behavioural syndromes, heritability and environmental influence, ontogeny, stability, and repeatability.

13.Antipredatory strategies and predator behaviour

Camouflage, aposematism, mimicry, and other antipredatory strategies; perceptual and cognitive abilities of predators; searching mechanisms; predator reactions to prey warning signals; avoidance learning; recognition and generalization of warning signals.

14. Antipredatory behaviour

Behavioural strategies reducing the risk of predation.

Practical course:

One-day practical course takes places in Prague zoo. It consists of the observations of behaviour of selected species , categorization and interpretation of the behaviour, creation of an ethogram and discussion. The list of usually observed species: Equus przewalski, Pecari tajacu, Nasua nasua, Canis lupus, Speothos venaticus, Chrysocyon, Mellivora capensis, Procavia capensis, Helogale parvula, Cynictis penicillata, Suricata suricatta, Lemniscomys barbarus, Arvicanthis niloticus, Acomys cahirinus, Cynomys ludovicianus, Capromys pilorides, Cyclura nubila.


Literature for practical course:

Martin P. & Bateson P. (1993): Measuring Behaviour: An Introductory Guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1993.

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