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Fish Schooling Simulation to Teach Tradeoffs in Animal Behavior

Tradeoffs between fitness costs and benefits are an overarching theme in behavioral ecology. This theme of tradeoffs is particularly evident in the study of antipredator behavior. Although class discussions of these tradeoffs are key, it can be difficult to guide students to think creatively about behavioral strategies. This activity promotes deeper understanding of antipredator behavior tradeoffs and creative thinking by having students play the role of fish, predators, and refuges in a simulation of schooling behavior. For the ‘fish’ in the school, the ultimate goal is to reach refuges; however, only a handful of fish are able to identify refuges or predators. The remaining ‘fish’ must learn to identify cues from predators and other members of the school. Through repeated simulations, the students actively learn how to identify predators and which strategies helped them to survive. This activity is best followed by small group and class discussions to explore predator identification, strategies of fish to avoid predators, predator strategies to catch more fish, and the potential fitness costs of these strategies. The activity presented here can be scaled to fit a variety of class times and educational levels.
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Primary or BEN resource type
Secondary resource type
General Biology Core Concepts
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords animal behavior, antipredator behavior, communication, tradeoffs
Key taxa fish
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Description This activity is a simulation of animal behavior and can be used in lecture or laboratory settings to promote discussion. The complexity of the simulation can be modified to suit the educational level of the students.
Primary Author Controlled Name
Primary Author Affiliation Penn State Wilkes-Barre
Primary Author email
Submitter Name Renee L. Rosier
Submitter Email
Rights Renee L. Rosier
Date Of Record Submission 2015-01-28

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