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Animal Biology

Subject Summary: Part IB Animal Biology

The overall aim of the course is to demonstrate the extraordinary diversity of ways in which the behaviour, physiology, and development of animals are adjusted by evolutionary processes to result in adaptation to the environment. 

The first term begins with Behaviour and Ecology, which considers how different behaviour patterns will be favoured by natural selection under different ecological conditions. Life history strategies, foraging behaviour, habitat selection, and mate choice are some of the topics covered. This is followed by Brains and Behaviour, which explores the ways in which brains are organized for the control of behaviour and for learning. 

In the second term, lectures on Insect Biology and Vertebrate Evolutionary Biology will focus on adaptation and evolution. Lectures in the first half of term will discuss the success of the most abundant land animals, the insects. Topics covered include flight, water balance, insect-plant relationships, mating strategies, and the evolution of insect societies. Work in the second half of term draws on vertebrate examples to show that integration of developmental and evolutionary studies can enhance the understanding of adaptation. 

In the third term, lectures on Evolutionary Principles 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, which is continuously assessed. There is no practical examination.

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.