Assistant professor of biological sciences Alison Pischedda has spent years studying the formation and expression of animal behavior, conducting research with students in her Pischedda Lab on how evolutionary processes and sexual selection impacts a species’ behavior over time.
In her biology class, Animal Behavior, Pischedda brings this understanding of the animal kingdom to student researchers outside her lab. Even as students have spent an increased amount of time indoors throughout the pandemic, Pischedda’s goal has been to help them think deeper about nature. “This course gives students the chance to connect with the natural world,” Pischedda said, “and to appreciate the mind-boggling diversity and beauty of the animal kingdom.”
Observing creatures that live everywhere, from on a blade of grass to in the depths of the ocean, Pischedda’s course is designed to help students discover the adaptive processes that influence animal behavior. Students study a wide variety of animal behaviors shaped by natural selection, such as examining how and why a cuckoo bird lays its eggs in a neighboring nest or why a male seahorse takes on the role of pregnancy and child-rearing.
As the world witnessed wild animals freely taking to city streets and parks last spring, Pischedda has adapted her course materials to address the unique circumstances and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the animal kingdom. “We will discuss the way that the first COVID lockdown affected animal behavior, impacting the way that animals mate, move around, and communicate with one another when humans stayed home,” said Pischedda. Outside the classroom, the pandemic has presented singular opportunities to students as well: The Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference went virtual this year, allowing more students to attend, view presentations, and interact with professional animal behaviorists on an international scale.
Pischedda wants students to walk away with a new understanding of themselves and of the animal kingdom. “One of the things that I hope students take from my class is a deeper appreciation of the natural world and a feeling that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves,” Pischedda said.
To learn more about Pischedda’s course Animal Behavior, watch the video above.
—ISABELLA PECHATY ’23