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Tropical Behavioural Ecology and Evolution 2011 – Department of Biology - University of Copenhagen

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University of Copenhagen, Department of Biology
Graduate Course in Tropical Behavioural Ecology and Evolution 

(for PhD and MSc students)

In collaboration with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Panama

Dates: 11-29 April (online preparations) and 1-25 May (field course in Gamboa, Panama)

ECTS credits: 15, maximal number of participating students 20

Deadline for signing-up: 1 March 2011

The course is subsidized by the Section for Ecology and Evolution, but will still carry a fee of DKK 6000 (ca € 800 or $ 1100) for the 3.5 weeks field component in Panama which will include expenses for accommodations and meals. Students will arrange and pay their own flights to Panama, where they are expected to arrive on the 1st of May, 2011.


The course is primarily targeted at Danish and international students enrolled in PhD programs, who should contact Rachelle Adams ( to register. MSc-level students can be considered in case there are open places. They should contact Lis Møller Christensen ( to register.


Dr. Rachelle M. M. Adams, Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Copenhagen, 

Smithsonian Institution Research Collaborator, Washington DC

Prof. Jacobus J Boomsma, University of Copenhagen, STRI Research Associate 

Dr. E. Allen Herre, Staff Scientist, STRI; Adjunct NEO faculty, McGill University, Montreal

Dr. Jonathan Z. Shik, Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Sunshine Van Bael, Associate Scientist, STRI, Panama

Course Goals for students

  • To become familiar with a range of tropical animals, plants and fungi and relevant tropical research themes in behavioural ecology and evolution, with particular emphasis on social interactions and parasitic and mutualistic symbioses.
    • Instructors have a range of expertises, such as: 
      • Effects of endophytic fungi on plants and herbivorous insects
      • Social evolution, mating systems and symbiont coevolution in social insects
      • Fig-wasp symbiosis
      • Social parasites of insect societies 
      • Spider biodiversity and museum quality vouchering
      • Ecology and species diversity of tropical ant communities
  • To understand the principles of proposal writing, research design, and manuscript preparation using a case study in tropical ecology and evolution
      • Students will hand in a short proposal in a the format of a STRI Short Term Fellowship application, including a CV and annotated bibliography (in Mendeley), but excluding transcripts.  This is due in April and will be commented on by the instructors, revised by the students and provided to all course members before the course begins. 

    See: and handout material for more details

      • Students will have meetings with instructors and/or their assistants before they travel to Panama and will be expected to be familiar with a reading syllabus of relevant literature, providing the foundation for pursuing their topics of interest in the research projects
    • To gain proficiency in using tools such as Skype, Mendeley Desktop, VivaMind, Dropbox  and STRI webcasts to aid in remote communication and collaboration
    • To become familiar with infrastructural aspects of tropical research in behavioural ecology and evolution (e.g. canopy cranes; permanent monitoring plots; global collaborative networks for biodiversity research; STRI infrastructural resources) 
      • To conduct short independent projects and thereby gain a better understanding of how to measure invertebrate biodiversity, behavioural ecological and evolutionary fieldwork in tropical systems
        • Students will submit a manuscript draft on their research before leaving Panama and a final draft one week later. The format will follow that of a peer reviewed article
      • To conduct two small group projects emphasizing a collaborative research approach in the three week period
        • All group projects will have an instructor as a mentor and three to five students. Students will design their short project but will be limited to the subject decided by their mentor (e.g. experimental ecology, community ecology, biodiversity, etc.). Two group written reports will be completed. Students will discuss the order of authorship and explain the contributions of each author. These reports will be peer reviewed by another group, revised, and then handed in.
        • The following techniques will be used to inspire experimental and genetic approaches
          • Standardized collecting protocols  (e.g., invertebrate ALL protocol) 
          • Collection of live ant colonies for laboratory studies
          • Collection of DNA quality samples for molecular work
          • Organization of collections to promote quality donation of vouchers to museums 
          • Genetic approaches complementing field work

      Expectations and Grading

      We expect students to use 45 working hours to prepare online for the course before arriving in Panama and to be present throughout the field period in Panama (240 working hours). In that period students are required to conduct a personal independent project, participate in two group projects (3-5 students), be present at all lectures, and participate in discussion sessions. The grade will be based on a portfolio containing the written proposal (20%), two short write-ups based on the group projects (30%), and the manuscript based on the independent project (30% total, 10% for draft and 20% for final). 

      For Danish participants, the course is primarily aimed at PhD students, but MSc students can be admitted in case there are open places. Any such admitted MSc students will hand in a portfolio of their final manuscript and approximately 50 pages of peer reviewed cited literature (usually 7-10 articles). Based on this combined file, MSc students students will take an oral exam in the presence of two examiner ("internal censur") and be rewarded the final 20% of their grade for the oral performance and portfolio after returning to Denmark.

      Lectures and activities (see also calendar)

      10-16 Apr  -  Meet with instructors and discuss proposal (vis-a-vis for Copenhagen students; via Skype for students from elsewhere). Begin working with Mendeley and Vivamind 

      18 Apr  -  Annotated bibliography due (completed in Mendeley)!

      20 Apr  -  Proposals due!

      25-29 Apr  -  Meet with instructors. Rework proposals. Final draft due! To be distributed to all Mendeley accounts

      Field part in Panama 

      1 May  -  

      Morning: Introductions and five minute proposal presentations using a Vivamind mindweb Afternoon: Forest walk, training and preparation in Gamboa and schoolhouse; Small group discussions

      2 May  -  

      Morning: Forest walk, training and preparation in Gamboa 

      Afternoon: Koos, Nikolaj, & Rachelle  -  Introduction to our systems and research approach; Brainstorming exercise and discussion

      3 May  -  

      Morning: STRI Tour

      Afternoon: Big group discussion (discuss group project ideas); Tupper Seminar

      Evening: Group Project 1 begins, discuss and make mindweb

      4 May  -  

      Morning: Field trip to PLR, sampling in field. Start Group Project 1. 

      Afternoon: Sunshine, Allen, Jon  -  Introduction to our systems and research approach

      5 May  -  

      Morning: Field work. 

      Afternoon: Field work and/or lab work.

      Evening: Guest Lecture on canopy (TBA)  -  (TBA).

      6 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Visit canopy crane, sampling in field.

      7 May  -   

      Morning: Field work, sampling then processing.

      Afternoon: Guest Lecture on auditory processing (TBA)  -  (TBA).

      Evening: Frog walk in Gamboa.

      8 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field work.

      9 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Work on projects, Group Project 1 write-up due at 5:00pm!

      Evening: Guest Lecture (TBA)  -  (TBA).

      10 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field work, sampling, processing.

      Evening: Big Group Discussion about projects

      11 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field work, sampling, processing and writing.

      Evening: Group Project 2 begins, discuss and make mindweb

      12 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field work. Work on Group Project 2.

      Evening: John Christy  -  Sensory ecology of fiddler crabs. Reviews of Group Project 1 due at midnight!

      13 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field work or lab work and writing. Revisions due for Group Project 1 write-up at 5:00pm!

      14 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field work, sampling, processing and writing.

      Evening: Big Group Discussion on independent projects

      15 May  -  

      Day at the beach

       16 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Fiddler crab project (Panama City)

      Evening: Dinner and Mall stop

      17 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field trip to PLR or lab work and writing.

      18 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field work, sampling, processing and writing. Group Project 2 write-up due 5:00pm!

      Evening: Jeff Hall  -  Reforestation.

      19 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Barro Colorado Island  -  Half of the students visit the island (guided tour and peer to peer meetings with resident graduate students)

      Evening: Bambi seminar

      20 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Barro Colorado Island  -  Half of the students visit the island (guided tour and peer to peer meetings with resident graduate students)

      Evening: Egbert Leigh  -  Factors affecting tropical forest Ecology.

      21 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Visit to Agua Salud Reforestation site.

      Evening: Reviews due at midnight! Group project discussions.

      22 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Field work or lab work and writing. Revisions of Group Project 2 are due at 5:00pm.

      23 May  -  


      AM: Field work or lab work and writing. 

      24 May  -  

      Morning: FREE

      Afternoon: Presentations on independent field projects.

      25 May  -  

      Morning/Afternoon: Report/manuscript draft based on the independent project due!

      1 June  - 

      Final report on independent project due!

      Possible guest lecturers (to be worked out and confirmed)

      STRI Staff

      Rachel Page: Sensory and cognitive ecology, predator-prey interactions, signal evolution

      John Christy: The evolution of animal communication with emphasis on sexual selection, courtship and the behavioral mechanisms of mate choice

      Bill Wcislo: Evolution and behavior; parasitism; sociality; social complexity; learning and behavioral diversification; brain evolution

      Egbert Leigh: The mechanisms of the balance of nature in ecological communities

      Don Windsor: Tropical Insect behavior, ecology and evolution

      STRI visitors and possible web based lecturers

      Mike Kaspari (Univ. of Oklahoma): Tropical community ecology

      Various members/associates of the Copenhagen Centre for Social Evolution, which will be doing fieldwork in and around Gamboa in May 2011.

      Small group project themes

          • Invertebrate community ecology
          • Plant-Insect Interactions
          • Multi-trophic interactions
          • Symbiosis with microorganisms
          • etc