Animal Ecology

The course Animal Ecology (REG 30306) provides a deeper understanding of plant-animal interactions on various levels. At the lowest integration we deal with the characteristics of the major players: food and foragers, especially plants as food and the herbivores with their feeding adaptations. Attention is paid to the role of body weight as an important determinant in many foraging traits. Optimal foraging theory lies at the heart of foraging decisions of animals and therefore ample attention is given to the factors shaping functional response curves, diet selection, patch choice and habitat selection. Examples of foraging behaviour are discussed in the light of theory. Interspecific interactions are thought to play a major role in shaping animal communities and an important focus therefore is on competitive, facilitative and predatory interactions between different species. We explain what (facilitative) mechanisms underlie the large impact of animals on their environment. The structure and functioning of animal communities is the final topic at the highest integration level. Which factors determine species richness, resource partitioning; what is the role of body size, which assembly rules apply, and how do rainfall and primary productivity patterns affect species richness and animal community structure? These questions are addressed during the lectures, practical modelling and field practical.

Learning outcomes:
1. Student understands the most important characteristics of the plants as food for herbivores and the major physiological and behavioural adaptations of herbivores to search for and process food
2. Student can apply current theories about animal-animal interactions and plant-animal interactions at various levels
3. Student can set up an experiment to test hypotheses about animal foraging behaviour and analyse the collected data
4. Student can analyse and evaluate models of the effect of foraging animals on ecosystem dynamics

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