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Animal Biology

Subject Summary: Part IB Animal Biology

The study of animals is essential for a modern understanding of biology. There is an enormous diversity of animal life on Earth, and animals have evolved adaptations to different environments in an endless number of ways, which involve their behaviour, physiology, and development. The aim of the course is to provide an evolutionary perspective on animal biology that integrates ecological, behavioural, neurobiological, physiological, developmental and cellular approaches to the subject.

The first term begins with Behaviour and Ecology, which considers how behaviour patterns are shaped by natural selection, and particularly how different life history strategies, foraging behaviours, habitat preferences, and mate choices are favoured under different ecological conditions. The following section on Brains and Behaviour will explore the ways in which brains are organized for the control of behaviour and for learning.

In the second term, lectures on Insect Biology will explore the factors leading to the insects’ extraordinary ecological and evolutionary success, by studying flight, water balance, insect-plant relationships, mating strategies, and the evolution of insect societies. The following section on Vertebrate Evolutionary Biology will demonstrate how the integration of developmental and evolutionary studies on vertebrates has enhanced the understanding of adaptation.

In the third term, lectures on Evolutionary Principles will review the theoretical fundamentals of evolutionary biology, and the methods available to interpret, understand, and predict the pattern and process of evolution.

All parts of the course are accompanied by practical work and experiments.

IB Animal Biology develops several aspects introduced in the first year courses of Evolution and Behaviour, Physiology of  Organisms and Biology of Cells. The course fits well with several other Part IB subjects including Ecology, Experimental Psychology, Plant and Microbial Sciences, Earth Sciences, Neurobiology, Physiology and Cell and Developmental Biology. IB Animal Biology provides an excellent background to the more advanced topics covered in Part II Zoology, and a very suitable basis for Part II in Plant Sciences or Ecology.

Programme Specification: Part IB Animal Biology

This course is taught by the Department of Zoology.


  1. to show how the form, function and behaviour of animals become adapted to the environment through evolution;
  2. to elucidate general biological principles through the study of specialised or experimentally tractable systems;
  3. to prepare students for Part II courses that require knowledge of animal biology at the systems and organismal levels;
  4. to develop students' practical scientific skills.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students should be:

  1. able to appreciate the complexities of biological organisation and be able to address scientifically controversial issues in a rational way;
  2. able to interpret material in terms of biological function and the effect of natural selection;
  3. able to analyse and report on material learned;
  4. able to assess the scope of animal biology and be able to select particular areas for further study;
  5. aware of the breadth of studies on the biology of animals as they relate to the evolution, function, behaviour and behavioural ecology of animals;
  6. able to integrate related topics from separate parts of the course.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures, supervisions and practical classes.


Assessment for this course is through

  • two unseen written examinations, based on lecture material (for aims 1-3 and learning outcomes 1-6);
  • continuous assessment of practical work (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1- 6).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None.

NST Part IA Evolution and Behaviour (particularly helpful); 
NST Part IA Biology of Cells (helpful); 
NST Part IA Physiology of Organisms (helpful).

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.