Sensory Ecology (ZOOL 739)

Fall 2018, M 9.30 (Moore 394), W 11.30 (Moore 205)

Drs. Timothy C. Tricas and Masato Yoshizawa

v. 8-27-2018


This course will link the understanding of Organismal Sensory Function with the research areas of sensory perception and behavior, gene expression/molecular biology and evolutionary processes related to biologically-relevant stimuli in the environment. In the first 8 weeks we will cover the different forms of sensory stimuli, transduction by sensory organs, sensory processing, the behavioral responses of organisms, and how these ultimately shape organism evolution.

Topical material will be covered in two sequential class sessions. On the first day, one student will give a 40 minute presentation on their assigned sensory system. Students should work well in advance with Dr. Tricas to identify the appropriate lecture material and determine the papers to assign for reading. On the second day, the class will critically discuss the assigned papers.

Presentations: Students are to prepare and submit by email to the instructor (before the class presentation time) a Powerpoint file (i.e. a Microsoft Powerpoint .pptx or .ppt file) on the diversity of the assigned sensory system. The presentation must include sections on:

1) the physical nature of the sensory stimulus that is detected by animals,

2) a survey of stimulus receptors in terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates: What are the different types of stimulus receptor systems (e.g. chemicals can be detected by both the taste and olfactory systems), types of receptors cells, and associated molecular channels/mechanisms within the receptor cells,

3) relevant abiotic and biotic sources of the stimuli, and

4) the role of the sensory system in interactions with the environment and other animals.

It will be impossible to cover everything on the subject in your presentation. The goal is to give an excellent overview of the diversity and detail of sensory adaptations found in diverse animal taxa. It is suggested to limit your presentation to about 30 slides.

Key words to guide your presentation: gross anatomy of the system found in both vertebrates and invertebrates, types of receptor cells, stimuli, sensory transduction, sensory encoding by the nervous system, central processing, biological function, behavioral response, diversity, evolution

Be sure to provide citations for figures used in your presentation. A complete bibliography of recent research and review articles on your topic should be submitted for posting on the class website.

Class Discussions: Students are to complete the background readings prior to the date of the class presentation. Discussions are to be led by ALL students in the class who should contribute to a lively discourse of the assigned readings. The only job of the topic leader is to keep the discussion moving forward, and not to lead the critical reviews.

Research proposal: Students are to prepare a research proposal (minimum 7 pages) that addresses a question on the sensory ecology of their own research animal. The paper should include a brief introduction of their study animal, details of the sensory system of interest, and the relevant roles of the sensory system in the behavior/ecology of the animal. It should clearly develop a hypothesis and methods that can be used to test an important scientific question on the sensory ecology of the organism. The proposal should be based on information found in the primary literature (no popular articles or websites) and include a full bibliography. Students should meet with the instructors as soon as possible to discuss the topic of the research proposal.

Grading: Students will be graded on their sensory system presentation (35%), participation in discussions (30%) and research proposal paper (35%).

Course Text:

Sensory Ecology, Behaviour, and Evolution, Martin Stevens, Oxford University Press, 2013.

You can purchase a new or used hard copy online, or access the free ebook version through the University of Hawaii. Go to



Class Schedule Weeks 1-8



Topic Leader Topic & Discussion Papers Stevens chapters & supplemental reading
1 8/20 Tricas Organizational  




Perception and Sensory Drive
Cummings and Endler 2018,
Jordan and Ryan 2015

Ch 1 & 11
2 8/27 Hannah Moon Chemical stimuli, taste and olfaction
Nevitt 2008, Smee and Weissburg 2006

Ache and Young 2005,
Ferrari et al. 2010,
Derby and Atema 1988

  8/29   "  
3 9/3 Labor Day Holiday - -
  9/5 Nick Butler

Light and vision
Jordao et al. 2007,Detto et al. 2006

Alkaladi 2014, Donovan 1978,
Levere 1978


9/10   "
  9/12 Melissa Atkins Gravity and balance/Sound and hearing
Nakano 2015, Hofstede and Ratcliffe 2016
Fritzsch et al. 2013, Ladich and Schulz-Mirbach 2016


9/17   "  
  9/19 Shandel Bronson Mechanical I - touch and vibration
Catania 2008, Catania and Remple 2004
Bullock 1945, Marasco et al. 2007, Sachdev and Catania 2002


9/24   "  
  9/26 Megan Elliot Mechanical II - lateral line
Liao 2010, Trump and McHenry 2008


10/1   "  
  10/3 Bethany Coffey Electric & magnetic fields
Baker et al. 2013, Kempster et al. 2013
7, 8


10/8   "  
  10/10 Tricas Sensory integration 9, 10
















    Research proposals due