Umwelt refers to the immersive sensory and cognitive world of individual animals. This early-twentieth-century term has new relevance as we increase our understanding of the importance of the subjective experiences of animals in animal behavior and evolutionary biology. This class will explore cutting-edge science of the diverse and powerful sensory capabilities of birds. Readings will include excerpts from Ed Yong's newly released book An Immense World, and original scientific papers on avian color vision, olfaction, taste perception, and echolocation. We will discuss what it is like to be a bird, the limits of scientific analysis, and how studying animal Umwelten expands our appreciation of the natural world.
Richard Prum is an evolutionary ornithologist with broad interests in avian biology. He has done research on diverse topics, including avian phylogenetics, behavioral evolution, feather evolution and development, sexual selection and mate choice, and the theropod dinosaur origin of birds. Prum has conducted field work throughout the Neotropics and in Madagascar, and has studied fossil theropods in China. At Yale, he is the curator of ornithology and head curator of vertebrate zoology in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Previously, he served as the chair of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology. Prum is currently the director of the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities, which is a new initiative at Yale that aims to foster communication, mutual understanding, collaborative research, and teaching among diverse scientific and humanistic disciplines. He is the author of The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—and Us.