Syllabus Reading List Term Paper

Syllabus: BIOH 420 – NEUROETHOLOGY (Spring 2017)

Course Instructor

James Mazer

2B Lewis Hall



Office Hours: M,W 3-4pm - Lewis 2B (Basement)

General Class Description

Introduction to the study of neuroethology based on a review of historically signficant and modern primary research materials. In this class we will explore a number of model systems that have been used extensively to develop our current understanding of the neural bases of animal and human behavior. This includes sound localization in owls, echolocation in bats, electrolocation in various fish and number of varied sensory systems used for species-specific communication in both vertebrates and invertebrates.

Students should have a basic understanding of neuroscience and neurophysiology (e.g., BIOH 313 or equivalent). The course will be a combination of lectures and student-run presentations of assigned research materials (journal articles). Grades will be based on presentation quality, class participation and short final paper.

Class Schedule

See reading list

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course students will

  1. Be able to critically read and understand peer-reviewed, primary scientific journal articles describing both classical and modern neurophysiological and behavioral experiments in the broad area of neuroethology,

  2. Be able to prepare for and lead discussion on important, current scientific research in the area of neurophysiology and neuroethology using modern experimental methods,

  3. Have a developed a comprehensive understanding of how neural circuits can control a range of naturally occurring animal behaviors of varying complexity across a range of invertebrate and vertebrate species both in the lab and in the real world.

  4. Be familiar with important concepts in the field of modern neuroscience, including (but not limited to) command neurons, neuromodulation, sensory coding mechanisms and multimodal sensory integration.


Class attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to be well prepared for each class and to participate in class discussions. Preparation means reading all assigned required readings for each class and, if necessary, supplemental material necessary to understand required readings. Grades will depend (in part) on class participation, so be prepared to answer questions and discuss assigned readings at each meeting. Assigned students will lead discussion of assigned readings each week. Depending on the number of enrolled students, all students will be required to prepare and lead 1-2 topics from the assigned readings. A short paper (2-3 pages) will be required on a topic in neuroethology (to be approved by the instructor) at the end of the course. Grades will be based on presentation quality, paper and class participation (40%, 40%, 20% respectively).


Class will meet Tues and Thurs 4-5:30pm. ¼ of each week’s class time will be a short introductory lecture on the topic of the upcoming week. This initial lecture will cover over the key questions addressed by the assigned papers for the upcoming week and go over the critical experimental methodologies. The remaining ¾ of the week’s class time will be dedicated to student-led discussions of the assigned readings. Students presenting will be expected to prepare a powerpoint-style presentation intended to guide discussion of the assigned readings. All students will be expected to have read the assigned material and participate in the discussion (including describing figures and other details from the assigned papers).

Required Text

None – a detailed reading list of journal articles will be provided on the course web site at the start of the semester. In addition to required reading the following textbooks are not required, but might be useful to provide supplemental background material when preparing presentations:

Course Prerequisite

BIOH 313

The goal of this course is to develop an understanding of the relationship between neural circuits and natural behavior and to be become familiar with how this relationship is studied in the laboratory. To be prepared for this course it is important to have a fundamental understanding of neuroscience and how neurons work. This means you should understand what neurons are (i.e., what makes neurons different than other cells), how neurons communicate with each other and how neurons can be organized into computational units. Specifically, this means knowing what an action potential (AP) is, how APs are generated and how APs are used by nervous system to encode and transmit information between neurons in different parts of the nervous system (i.e., synapses and synaptic transmission).

Course Website


Exams (0%)

No exam.

Term Paper (40%)

One final term paper (2-3pp single spaced + references) is required. Topic on a model system/question of your choice. Topic can be one of the weekly topics or a new topic. For a new topic, you must get approval of the instructor in advance. Term paper will be due before the beginning of final exams (i.e., turned in BEFORE May 1, 2017). No late papers will be accepted.

Presentations (40%)

Students will be expected to volunteer to present 1-2 of the assigned weekly topics (depending on the number of enrolled students). Presentation of a topic means guiding class discussion. Presenters should come with a prepared powerpoint presentation to guide discussion along with questions to ask of classmates to initiate discussion.

Class participation (20%)

All students are required to be prepared for each class session by having read all of the assigned material. Students, even when not presenting, should be prepared to answer questions and discuss the methods and implications of the experiments described in the assigned journal articles.

ADA Compliance

Reasonable accommodation will be provided for all persons with disabilities to ensure equal participation in the course. Please contact an instructor if you require assistance.

Student Conduct Policies 

This course adheres to the MSU Student Conduct Guidelines, Course Expectations and Instructor Responsibilities as described on the MSU website at

As defined in the MSU Student Academic and Conduct Guidelines and Grievance Procedures, (available on the MSU web site), there are specific procedures to be followed in case of suspected cheating or academic misconduct. Any cheating on any exam or assignment will lead to a grade of zero for that examination or assignment, and consideration of a grade of F for the course.

Behavioral Expectations

Montana State University expects all students to conduct themselves as honest, responsible and law-abiding members of the academic community and to respect the rights of other students, members of the faculty and staff and the public to use, enjoy and participate in the University programs and facilities. For additional information reference see


University policy states that, unless otherwise specified, students may not collaborate on graded material. Any exceptions to this policy will be stated explicitly for individual assignments. If you have any questions about the limits of collaboration, you are expected to ask for clarification


Paraphrasing or quoting another’s work without citing the source is a form of academic misconduct. Even inadvertent or unintentional misuse or appropriation of another’s work (such as relying heavily on source material that is not expressly acknowledged) is considered plagiarism. If you have any questions about using and citing sources, you are expected to ask for clarification.

Academic Misconduct

Section 420 of the Student Conduct Code describes academic misconduct as including but not limited to plagiarism, cheating, multiple submissions, or facilitating others’ misconduct. Possible sanctions for academic misconduct range from an oral reprimand to expulsion from the university.

Student Educational Records

All records related to this course are confidential and will not be shared with anyone, including parents, without a signed, written release. If you wish to have information from your records shared with others, you must provide written request/authorization to the office/department. Before giving such authorization, you should understand the purpose of the release and to whom and for how long the information is authorized for release.