The value of study questions – a set on The Selfish Gene

How do you know what is important? Have you ever read a chapter carefully, even taking the three times, once quickly, second time carefully, third time to confirm, and then still done poorly on the test? You took notes, right? But somehow that wasn’t enough. A lot of the education literature says that tests are what solidify information. If you reprocess it for yourself you will remember it better than anything. This is from research from our own psych department and Roddy Roediger, who like me was once at Rice University, but is now at Wash U.

I’m not a big believer in lectures. I think they have their place, but in the rest of your life I’m not going to be there to lecture you. I want you to learn to learn on your own. I want you to figure out what is important to you and see you learning this effectively. I think study questions are the ideal intermediate. I don’t know that they function as effectively as a test, but I hope they help. I hope you take these questions and learn the answers, the ambiguities, and where you disagree with me and with your friends. I want you to discuss them.

My first introduction to the power of study questions was from Jim Lloyd, firefly biologist, and the University of Michigan Biological Station. He seldom lectured us. He wanted us to learn everything. We rarely discussed physiology of insects, but we had a big book on it, and Jim’s study questions. I learned a lot of insect physiology. Three of the six students in the class went on to become prominent entomologists. The others went to medical or dental school.

Now I’m at Washington University about to teach my first undergraduate class. Apparently Blackboard for the fall is not yet operational. So I’ll post my first set of study questions here. The test will be on the third day of class, over Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. We have a lot to learn this semester and a lot to produce. We’ll be writing Wikipedia articles. We will teach high school students. We may edit or add to Mockingbird Tales: Readings in Animal Behavior. Our lives will never be the same. I will get to know my first wonderful cohort of amazing Wash U students. I hope they are as memorable as my dear Rice students.

Joan, Richard, and Dave, ok, not a great picture, but there it is.

OK, so here are the study questions. Immerse yourself! Sometimes you can get a copy of The Selfish Gene for free if you sign up for Audible and listen to it. I love to listen, but then I’ve probably read it annually since it first came out. By the way, I was lucky enough to have dinner with Richard Dawkins when I was in Oxford in July. Stuart West, author of our other textbook, Ashleigh Griffin, amazing micro and comparative biologist, Richard, Dave and I all ate at New College. W. D. Hamilton‘s nephew was also at the table!

Bio 372 Animal Behavior, Dawkins study questions

Dawkins, Chapter 1

20.  What role does consciousness have in governing altruistic behavior?

21. Why are alarm calls altruistic?

22. What is wrong with the argument that traits evolve for the good of the group or the species?

23. What is individual selection?

24. Does evolution work more rapidly between competing groups or between competing individuals?

25. What is a unit of selection and what is the main one?  Why is this important?

Dawkins, Chapter 2

26. What are replicators?  Why is error important in their copying?

27. Outline the process of evolution using Dawkins’ terms.

Dawkins, Chapter 3

28. Why are recombination and mutation events important?  What forms do they take?

29.  What is the genetic basis of one kind of variation in mimicry?

30.  What is natural selection?

31. What are the pros and cons of viewing the individual or the gene as the main unit of selection?

32.  Outline the evolutionary argument for senescence.

33. What are the evolutionary costs and benefits of sex.

Dawkins, Chapter 4

34. How do genes influence behavior?

35. How do honeybees vary in foulbrood susceptibility?

36. What role does communication among individuals have to do with gene survival and replication?

Dawkins, Chapter 5

1. How do individuals interact with other species?  Compare and contrast predator/prey interactions, host parasite interactions and competitors for the same resource for type of aggression, relative generation time, and coevolution.

2. How do between species interactions differ from within species interactions?

3. Why should an individual refrain from a fight to the death?

4. How long should an individual continue to fight?

5. When are fights to the death most likely to occur?

6. When should fighting be delayed?

7. What is an evolutionarily stable strategy?

8.  Is hawk/dove a model of within species or between species aggression?

9. When will hawks not drive doves to extinction?

10. If hawk and dove coexist at an ESS what would have higher fitness, a new baby with hawk or dove genotype?

11. How do you assign values to display, escalation and victory?  What are the units?

12. What is a conditional strategy?

Dawkins, Chapter 6

18. What are all the ways selfish genes spread?

19. What is green beard altruism?

20. What does relatedness measure in terms of genes?

21. What does Dawkins mean by baseline genes?

22. What do aphids do that armadillos don’t?  Why?

23. What is the difference between kin selection and group selection?

24. How does age enter into assessments of the value of helping relatives?

25. What are the pros and cons of an adult male baboon defending babies against a leopard?

26. Why do chicks twitter and not just cheep?

27. When are eggs recognized and when not?

28. How do cuckoos get away with their parasitism?

29. Compare egg recognition in gulls and guillemots.

30. Why don’t guillemots share egg sitting?

31. Why are Packer and Pusey’s estimates of relatedness in lions more likely to be accurate than Bertram’s?

32. Why is care for children more common than care for siblings?

Dawkins, Chapter 7

1. What is the difference between bearing and caring?  Why is this important?

2. Why does it matter when individuals have children in assessing population growth?

3. Why do lower-ranking individuals have a lower chance of reproducing?

4. What is the Lack hypothesis?  Why was David Lack so important in early thinking about selfish genes?

5.What factors might favor producing fewer eggs than one could rear to independence?

6. Why don’t birds fight territory holders to the death?

7. Why does Dawkins view animals as gamblers, and in what sorts of games?

8. Why do animals bear fewer babies than they can rear?  Why might they care for more than they bore?

9. When do animals reduce their clutch size?  Which babies are they likely to remove, largest or smallest?

10. What do animal “family planners” optimize?

Dawkins, Chapter 8

11. What is parental investment?  Why is it measured in units of other offspring?

12. If siblings are related to each other why should they be in conflict?

13.  Why might 2 sibs be more in conflict than two equal aged non-sibs?

14.  Why and when should a mother have favorites?  Is a short-lived mother more or less likely to have favorites than is a long-lived mother?

15. Are runts evolved, or developmental accidents?  Why or why not?

16. What is Dawkins explanation for menopause?  How might you test it?

17. Who wins parent-offspring conflict and why?  What are the important variables?

18.  When would a young animal prefer to die than to increase risk to siblings?

19.  Use Hamilton’s rule to express the area where mothers and progeny are in conflict.

20.  Use Hamilton’s rule to express the area where siblings are in conflict with each other.

21. How do Cuckoos fool parents?

22.  Why does Dawkins think that baby swallows push siblings, not cuckoos out of the nest?

23. What is wrong with Alexander’s argument about parental control?  When are parents likely to win?

24.  Why should a child fool a mother?

Dawkins, Chapter 9

1.  What is Fisher’s argument for equal investment in the sexes?

2.  What is the difference between investment in males and females, and numbers of males and females?

3. How does parental care influence the sex ratio?

4. Under what mating system is male mortality likely to be greater than female mortality and why?

5. Why do female mice evolve to abort when they smell a new male?  Why do lions wait for infanticide to do the job?

6. Discuss all the costs and benefits of long courtships for both males and females.

7. When should males and females be honest and when deceitful?

8. If one parent deserts should the other stay and rear the babies?  Why or why not?

9. Why does faithful and philanderer cycle?  (Be sure to look at footnotes at back.)

10. What are the advantages and disadvantages to fastness and coyness in females?

11. What is the runaway selection hypothesis?

12. What is the handicap hypothesis?

13. How is the disease hypothesis related to the handicap hypothesis?

14. In what sense are ornaments handicaps?

15. What sorts of males should females avoid mating with?

16. What is Dawkins argument that females should choose males on the basis of erection quality all about?  What are its weaknesses?

17. Exactly how can long tails evolve through the process of runaway selection?

18. How might we distinguish the runaway selection process from the handicap process?

19. Why shouldn’t a femlae copulate with any old male because even lek holders or victors of male male competition are likely to be victorious because they are younger?

Dawkins, Chapters 10-13

1. What is an evolutionary explanation for mixed species flocks?

2. Why do fish school? Give two different reasons.

3. How can grouping in the absence of kin selection be advantageous?

4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Dawkin’s superorganism analogy for social insects?

5. Why are social hymenoptera sisters related by 0.75?

6. What is the difference between kin selection and the haplodiploid hypothesis? Which one has been proven to be correct and why?

7. What did Trivers and Hare predict and why?

8. Who controls hymenopteran sex ratios and in whose interests is this?

9. Why don’t slave making ants have female biased sex ratios?

10. Why might queens of honeybees mate multiply, thereby ‘throwing away’ the haplodiploid advantage?

11. What conditions are necessary for reciprocal altruism to evolve?  What sorts of behavior is it most suited for?

12. When are grudgers and suckers indistinguishable?

13. What modifications are made to prisoner’s dilemma to use it to model reciprocal altruism?

14. Why and with whom do vampire bats share blood?  How could you tell whether it is really reciprocal altruism or just overlap from sharing food with relatives?

15. Why is meiotic drive such as is caused by t alleles in mice against the interests of most of the genome?

16. What is wrong with the view that DNA is a device for organisms to reproduce themselves?

17. What are the similarities and differences in genes for caddisfly houses, lobster shells and snail shells?

18.  Why do flukes cause snails to produce thicker snail shells?

19.  Why do plasmid genes share fewer interests with nuclear genes than nuclear genes share among themselves?

21.  What sorts of behavioral information would you want about a parasite to predict its impact on its host’s behavior?

22.  Why would a bird ever feed anyone in a different nest?

23. What are the similarities and differences in selection in a pack of wolves, a honeybee colony and nuclear vs. cytoplasmic genes?


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in The joy of teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The value of study questions – a set on The Selfish Gene

  1. david says:

    time to refresh my studies!

  2. Pingback: Grading: is it OK to drink beer and eat pizza? | Sociobiology

  3. Pingback: Thoughts on easy and hard test questions for undergraduate students. | Sociobiology

  4. dave says:

    anyway someone can post the answers to all these questions?

  5. Greg says:

    Does anyone know the answers to these questions? If so, could you please post the answers or email them to me?

  6. Anne says:

    Stop being lazy and actually read the book!

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