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Subject Summary: Part IB Evolution & Animal Diversity

Evolutionary biology is at the core of our modern understanding of biology. Every living organism has a suite of adaptations coded in its genome that reflect 4 billion years of evolutionary history. Animals are the most diverse group of organisms, and have adapted to their environments in an endless number of ways, involving their behaviour, morphology and development. The aim of this course is to examine the fundamental principles of evolution in animals at all levels from genetics through to development, behaviour and ecology.

The course begins with Behavioural Evolution, 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 Genes and Genomes examines how the behaviour of genes in populations underlies animal evolution. We consider the genetic and genomic basis of adaptations, including adaptations to pathogens, and how population histories can be reconstructed.

In the second term, the section on Macroevolution and Diversity will explain the use of phylogenies in character evolution, speciation and comparative studies. It then considers the evolution of vertebrates, studying major transitions in their evolution and diverse morphological and physiological adaptations.

In the third term, lectures on Adaptations will focus on the insects, the most diverse and successful group of animals on Earth. Adaptations to the enormous diversity of insect life styles are considered, looking at their physiology, neurobiology, ecology and evolution.

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 and Behaviour, Physiology of  Organisms and Biology of Cells. The course fits well with several other Part IB subjects including Ecology, Evolution & 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 very suitable basis for Part II in Plant Sciences and Genetics.

Programme Specification: Part IB Evolution & Animal Diversity

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.