Evolutionary Neuroscience :: Syllabus

Term: Spring 2018
Instructor: Daniel Meliza (cdm8j)
Class times: TTh 11:00A-12:15P, Gilmer 225
Websites: Collab - PSYC 5559 Evol Neurosci 18S
Wordpress (final projects)
Office Hours: Th 1-3, PLSB 114
Last revised: 1/2018

What is this course about?

Our planet has a tremendous diversity of habitats, and all but the most extreme have been colonized by many species of animals, each beautifully adapted for survival and reproduction. These adaptations are not only anatomical but behavioral, and underlying the behavior is the most complex physical structure known to science, the brain. Evolutionary neuroscience attempts to answer questions about how natural selection influences the structure of the brain and the behaviors it produces, as well as historical questions about how the brains of living species evolved and are related to each other through common descent.

Course objectives

This course is intended as an introduction to current methods and topics in evolutionary neuroscience. At the end of this term, you will be able to:

Meeting the objectives

The course is divided into three blocks, each dedicated to an in-depth examination of a question about the evolution of the brain. In the first two blocks, I will choose the topics and assign initial readings that describe a contended question, provide background, and present data in support of the competing hypotheses. We’ll discuss the readings online and in class. In the latter half of each block, you will pick readings and take turns facilitating discussions.

The last block is dedicated to topics of your choice, which will form the basis for your final project. Working in pairs, you’ll take sides on an open question in the field, prepare readings for the rest of the class, facilitate a discussion, and put together a web page that provides a review of the question.

Your progress towards course objectives will be assessed as follows:

Reading responses and forum discussion (15%)

Each week we will read several research papers, reviews, or textbook chapters related to the topic under discussion. After you’ve completed the readings, you’ll submit a short entry to a Collab forum. Entries will be between 200-300 words on one of the following themes:

In-class discussion (30%)

Active participation in class discussions is essential to your learning experience in this course. In order to participate, you must

Of course, none of this can happen unless you are present. If unforeseen events illness, religious holidays, or academic/athletic field trips prevent you from attending, I expect you to notify me ahead of time so we can discuss make-up work. Only major, documented emergencies are acceptable excuses after the fact.

Paper presentations (30%)

You will have two opportunities to choose readings and facilitate discussions as the term progresses. Facilitation involves:

I will act as a co-facilitator on these exercises, but it will be your responsibility to lead. Your grade will be based on a rubric (that I will share with you) that assesses your understanding of the concepts and background, your clear and accurate presentation of the data, and your ability to engage the class in a good discussion.

Your first facilitation will be at the end of one of the first two blocks. Your second facilitation will be done with your project partner on your final project topic.

Final project website (25%)

Working as pairs, you will put together a website that provides a primer for your peers at UVA on a topic in evolutionary neuroscience. You’ll choose a topic that focuses on a well-defined question about one of the following:

You will need to pick a topic with some divergence of opinion in the field, so that you and your partner can focus on different hypotheses or theories. You should each attempt to find the best evidence in support of the hypothesis you’ve picked, and then synthesize your knowledge into a document or set of documents that provides a general introduction to the topic, clearly explains competing hypotheses in the field, and details the evidence in support of each hypothesis.

Your website will develop over the course of the semester, with stops along the way to assess your progress and obtain feedback from me and your classmates.

What materials will you need?

Most of our assigned readings will be primary research papers and reviews that you can find using PubMed, Google Scholar, or VIRGO. Some papers may only be accessible from on grounds or by using the VPN or web proxy as described here. In some cases the readings may not be available online, in which case I will scan them and make them available through the class Collab page.

A number of readings will be assigned from Evolutionary Neuroscience, ed. J.H. Kaas, which is available electronically through this link.

You will probably need to consult additional resources to help you understand some of the concepts we will discuss. Like working research scientists, you can use handbooks, textbooks, online resources, peer-reviewed articles, and personal communications to learn what you need to know to complete the full story surrounding the questions we’ll be addressing. If you need additional help finding sources, please contact me, your reference librarian, or the Source Dorks.

What is the class schedule?

This schedule will be updated with readings and presentations as the semester progresses. Underlined topics will have student facilitators. Check back frequently.

Date Topic Readings Assignments
Block 1 The evolution of the neocortex
1/18 Introductions (none)
1/23, 1/25 Evolution and variation K1; B&H1
1/30, 2/1 Selection and development Trut (1999), American Scientist 87:160-169 (background)
Singh et al (2017) PLoS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0175043
Agnvall et al (2017) Sci Rep doi:10.1038/s41598-017-03236-4
Hare et al (2005) Curr Biol doi:10.1016/j.cub.2005.01.040
Evin et al (2017) Biol Lett doi:10.1098/rsbl.2017.0321
2/6, 2/8 The vertebrate brain B&H3 Choose dates for facilitation
Corbo et al (2001), Cell 106:535-538
Wada et al (1998), Development 125:1113-1122
Hirth et al (2003), Development doi:10.1242/dev.00438
(optional) Forey and Janvier (1994), Am Scientist 82(6):554-565
2/13, 2/15 The forebrain B&H19 Choose partners for website
Karten (1969), Annu N Y Acad Sci 167(1):164-179
Shimizu and Bowers (1999), Behav Brain Res 98:183-191
Ahumada-Galleguillos et al (2015), J Comp Neurol doi:10.1002/cne.23808
2/20, 2/22 Neocortex and pallium K21
Dugas-Ford et al (2012), Proc Natl Acad Sci doi:10.1073/pnas.1204773109
Puelles et al (2000), J Comp Neurol 424(3):409-438
Jarvis et al (2013), J Comp Neurol doi:10.1002/cne.23404
2/27
3/1
3/6, 3/8 Spring Recess
Block 2 The evolution of intelligence
3/13 Choose topics for website
3/15
3/20
3/22
3/27 Website skeleton posted
3/29
4/3
4/5
Block 3 Student Topics
4/10
4/12
4/17
4/19
4/24 Draft websites due
4/26
5/1 (last day of class) Website comments due
5/7 Final website version posted

Professional and academic integrity

As practicing professionals, scientists trust each other to maintain the highest standards of ethics, integrity, and personal responsibility. Since you have joined this community of trust to prepare for your future career, I expect you to fully comply with all of the provisions of the UVa Honor System. In addition to pledging that you have neither received nor given aid on an assignment, your signature also affirms that you have not knowingly represented as your own any opinions or ideas that are attributable to another author in published or unpublished notes, study outlines, abstracts, articles, textbooks, or web pages. In other words, I expect that all assignments and reports are your original work and that references are cited appropriately. Breaking this trust agreement not only will result in zero credit for the assignment in question and referral to the Honor Committee but also will jeopardize your future as a professional scientist or in any field. Don’t let yourself down.

What accomodations are available for students with disabilities?

Students with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. The Student Disability Access Center (434-243-5180), located in the Elson Student Health Center, can arrange diagnostic testing and make recommendations for specific accommodations. Your Association Dean can also respond to requests for information and assistance.