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Subject Summary

The principles of evolution are fundamental to an understanding of biology. In this course we consider basic evolutionary processes and how these can explain the extraordinary diversity of animal life. We take an integrative approach, considering the genetics, phylogenetics, physiology, neurobiology and behaviour of animals.

The first term begins with behavioural 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 vertebrate evolutionary biology demonstrates how the integration of developmental and evolutionary studies on vertebrates has enhanced the understanding of adaptation.

In the second term, lectures on genes and genomes address fundamental principles of evolution, and how they explain evolution in natural populations and epidemiology. The course then considers how phylogenies have revolutionised our understanding of animal relationships, adaptations and patterns of diversification. This is followed by an exploration of insect biology and the factors leading to the insects’ extraordinary ecological and evolutionary success. Students will learn about insect anatomy, respiration, water balance, locomotion, feeding and insect-plant relationships.

In the third term, students will learn about the ways in which animal brains function, how they operate in the detection and processing of sensory information and how sensory and motor functions are finally integrated at the level of neurons and networks to generate behaviour.

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

IB Evolution & Animal Diversity develops several aspects introduced in the first year courses of Evolution & Behaviour, Physiology of Organisms and Biology of Cells. The course fits well with several other Part IB subjects including Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, Experimental Psychology, Plant and Microbial Sciences, Earth Sciences, Neurobiology, Physiology and Cell and Developmental Biology. IB Evolution & Animal Diversity provides an excellent background to the more advanced topics covered in Part II Zoology, and a suitable basis for the Part II in several other subjects, including (but not limit to) Plant Sciences, Genetics, Psychology and Biological Anthropology.

Programme Specification

This course is taught by the Departments of Zoology and Genetics.


This course aims to:

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