Better insight into animal behaviour could contribute significantly to the protection of species. This is the motivation behind the free MOOC course in ‘Animal Behaviour in Conservation’. Knowledge of behaviour fosters a better understanding of the problem and, thus, better solutions.
MOOC is short for Massive Open Online Course: open to anyone who is interested. Almost six hundred individuals from 84 different countries have already enrolled in the new ‘Animal Behaviour in Conservation’ MOOC. In five modules, they will learn how behaviour serves as a linkage point between environmental influences and how these influences affect the animal and population.
Adjusting behaviour to the environment
Knowledge of animal behaviour fosters a better understanding of issues that might occur in the conservation of animals. Issues may arise if animals fail to adapt to their changing environment. ‘Young sea turtles, for example, move towards the light upon hatching’, says researcher Lysanne Snijders, one of the driving forces behind this MOOC. ‘While this behaviour can be increasingly hazardous to the sea turtles due to light pollution’.
Other species adapt too fast and in a way that is threatening in the long term. Coyotes and bears, for instance, rapidly learn how to score food from humans, with all the related conflicts as results.
Animal behaviour can also be used as a warning system. For example, diurnal animals may shift to a more nocturnal life if there is too much human activity in their environment. Nature conservationists can see whether lions have bonded sufficiently before being released back into the wild.
If the environment changes, humans can try to mitigate the effects of the changes by steering animal behaviour. Consider, for example, teaching cranes that have grown up in captivity new migration routes. Or, the precise opposite, the environment can be altered to match the animals’ needs. Wind turbines can be switched off during low wind speeds and high bat activity to prevent collisions.
This MOOC contains concrete examples of situations where behaviour is a crucial factor. ‘Without understanding behaviour, you will not get far in protection animals’, says professor Marc Naguib, who is involved in the course. ‘It is an important piece of the whole puzzle.’
Naguib, Snijders and James Savage have gained extensive experience during the successful ‘Introduction to Animal Behaviour’ MOOC. This introductory course, followed by over fifty thousand students already, has been among the world’s best free courses for several years.
The new course ‘Animal behaviour in Conservation’ is English spoken and has just started. However, you can still enrol. The course offers one module per week and requires approximately five hours of studying.