Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education

First Advisor

Dr. Renee’ S. Schwartz

Second Advisor

Dr. Brandy A. Skjold

Third Advisor

Dr. Sharon A. Gill


animal behavior, conceptual framework, content analysis, curriculum development, higher education


In 1963, Tinbergen revolutionized the study of animal behaviour in his paper On aims and methods of ethology (Zeitschrift Tierpsycholgie, 20, 410-433) by revamping the conceptual framework of the discipline. His framework suggests an integration of four questions: causation, ontogeny, survival value, and evolution. The National Research Council Committee (U.S.) on Undergraduate Biology Education to Prepare Research Scientists for the 21st Century published BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2003), which suggests alignment between current research and undergraduate education. Unfortunately, alignment has been rarely studied in college biology, especially for fundamental concepts. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to determine if the conceptual framework used by animal behaviour scientists, as presented in current primary literature, aligns with what students are exposed to in undergraduate biology education. After determining the most commonly listed textbooks from randomly-selected animal behaviour syllabi, four of the most popular textbooks, as well as the course descriptions provided in the collected syllabi, underwent content analysis in order to determine the extent that each of Tinbergen’s four questions is being applied in education. Mainstream animal behaviour journal articles from 2013 were also assessed via content analysis in order to evaluate the current research framework. It was discovered that over 80% of the textbook text covered only two of Tinbergen’s questions (survival value and causation). The other two questions, evolution and ontogeny, were rarely described in the text. A similar trend was found in journal articles. Therefore, alignment is occurring between primary literature and education, but neither aligns with the established conceptual framework of the discipline. According to course descriptions, many instructors intend to use an integrated framework in their courses. Utilizing an integrated framework within textbooks and teaching this framework is recommended in order to increase the number of scientists in the next generation that study evolution and ontogeny of behaviour. In order to use an integrated framework in animal behaviour textbooks and courses primary literature from mainstream and less mainstream behaviour journals, as well as broader biology journals, are necessary.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access