Open Access Educational Resources

The nose knows: An introduction to statistical analysis in animal behavior research

These activities were designed to develop undergraduate students’ quantitative skills, and are applicable in both introductory biology and upper division ecology and animal behavior courses.

King penguin colony. Photo: Greg Cunningham

Activity 1 focuses on how King penguins locate their foraging grounds, hundreds of kilometers from their breeding areas using dimethyl sulphide (DMS) as a chemical cue. For this activity, students generate hypotheses from background information and analyze data collected using a scaled categorical score of how King penguin adults and chicks respond to the presentation of DMS odor. Students conduct descriptive statistics, a t-test using MS Excel Analysis Toolpak, and a Mann-Whitney U test using VassarStats: Website for Statistical Computation. Students also create a bar chart to visually present results and practice properly labeling figures, in addition to interpreting statistical analyses.

Activity 2 examines how DMS sensitives developed in the penguin’s closest living relative, the Procellariiformes, who have a different natural history than King penguins. For this activity, students generate hypotheses from background information and analyze data from a Y-maze experiment conducted on Blue petrel chicks with either DMS or a control odor in each arm of the maze. Students create a figure, conduct a binomial statistical test using MS Excel, and interpret resulting p-values. Finally, students are asked to draw conclusions about how the differences in the natural history between the two groups of birds might impact their sensitives toward DMS in chicks versus adults.

Burrows, J. (2018) The nose knows: How tri-trophic interactions and natural history shape bird foraging behavior. An introduction to statistical analysis in animal behavior research. DIG into Data FMN (2018), QUBES Educational Resources doi:10.25334/Q43H9V


Humpback whale foraging behavior: Data collection and visualization

This resource was created by Kaitlin Bonaro, a visiting undergraduate student at the Duke University Marine Lab, to help communicate science through data visualization. With the help of Dave Johnston and myself, she skillfully conveys scientific data on humpback whale foraging behavior, collected for my dissertation research, into a form of communication accessible to everyone:  students, teachers, scientists and nonscientists alike. Our intent in creating this resource was to share our research with a broad audience in a compelling manner, in addition to creating a unique tool for teaching whale feeding behavior. We hope you will find it useful and share it with your friends and colleagues.

In this video, viewers can watch and learn how tags are deployed on humpback whales feeding in Southeast Alaska and how prey data are collected around the whales. Footage from a camera attached to a whale’s back (“Crittercam”) as it dives and ascends is linked to a three-dimensional data visualization of a whale’s feeding dive, allowing for a true sense of what a whale experiences underwater.  Lunge (gulp) feeding is explained in detail through a diagram and underwater and surface footage of whales’ feeding. A representation of the whales’ prey, krill (a small shrimp-like crustacean) and herring (a small schooling fish) appears as a field of colors marking different densities, and the whale’s dive track can be seen within this prey field. A variety of feeding behavior are described and seen through a three-dimensional visualization, making it clear how whales use different techniques to exploit their prey. There’s some pretty amazing video and still images of whale group feeding at the surface, where the filter-feeding apparatus, “baleen,” can be seen in action as herring are trying to escape the gaping mouths. Additionally, whale vocalizations recorded during a group-feeding event are played simultaneously with the three-dimensional whale behavior reconstructed from tag data. The intensity of the calls increases before the whale finally breaks the water’s surface and the call ends.