Anatomy, Behavior, and Evolution: Fishy Solutions to Life Underwater

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 21, 2021 - July 02, 20216/21 - 7/022 WeeksM-F 8:30A-11:20ACourse Full, Waitlist ClosedOn-CampusElska Kaczmarek
Hannah Weller

Course Description

Life is complicated underwater. How do you disappear on a bustling coral reef, “see” in a muddy river bottom, raise offspring in a lake full of predators, or find food at the bottom of the ocean? Only one group of vertebrates has solved all of these questions: fish. Fish have adapted to every known underwater habitat, from the deserts of Death Valley to the ice shelves of Antarctica. Fish can fly, walk on land, play dead, glow in the dark, sense heartbeats buried in the sand, and communicate with hidden messages. No wonder there are more species of fish than there are all other vertebrates combined! This course will explore the many ways fish have adapted to their complex, challenging environments, and how and why biologists study these adaptations.

There are many ways to characterize an animal’s fitness--we will cover physiological, sensory, biomechanical, anatomical, and behavioral adaptations to underwater environments. Students will dissect fish and view museum collections in order to solidify the connections between fish, their adaptations, and their habitats. Outside of class, students will read original research articles to discuss, critique, and build upon these ideas in class, while learning how to approach primary scientific literature. These experiences are intended to spur curiosity and give students the tools to think like evolutionary and organismal biologists: what are interesting questions about adaptations, and what methods can we use to answer them? Ultimately, students will identify an interesting question and design their own (theoretical) experiment to answer it using the modern research methods they learned about throughout the course.

After taking this course, students will be familiar with advanced techniques and resources in organismal biology, including museum specimens, histology, 3D modeling, field surveys, and molecular phylogenetics. They will understand how biologists use these resources to study how natural selection shapes adaptations in physiology, anatomy, and behavior, and learn to think about evolving life as a constantly branching tree, rather than a hierarchy. Students will also learn how to read and critique original research articles in biology and will gain an enduring understanding of science as an active, collaborative, inquisitive process, rather than a static pool of facts.

On-Campus Supplemental Fee: $75

Prerequisites: Students should have an interest in biology. Prior exposure to a basic biology or evolution course is a plus but is not required. Students should be willing to take a hands-on approach in labs, which will include the opportunity to dissect fish and handle museum specimens.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEBI0927

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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