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Subject Summary: Part II Zoology

The courses are arranged in modules from which students select two in each of the first and second terms. Eight modules are offered in the Michaelmas Term and seven in the Lent Term. Students may take one of the following courses offered by the Departments of Plant Sciences and Genetics: Evolution and Ecosystem Dynamics; and Evolutionary Genetics, instead of one of the modules listed below. The third term is kept free for reading and attending research seminars.


In the Long Vacation between Part IB and Part II, students are encouraged to attend a ten day field course. It is also possible to use summer laboratory work or field work as the basis for a project, However this is not mandatory and advice should be sought from the Course Organiser before anything is organised.  


Michaelmas Term Modules

Topics in Vertebrate Evolution: The major features of evolution from fishes to birds are reviewed, using the evidence of both fossil and living forms. The functional significance of structural changes is explored, giving emphasis to controversial issues and problematical forms. Practical work is based on exquisite material from the Museum research collections.


Conservation Science: This interdepartmental course, taught with Plant Sciences, aims to provide an understanding of why wild nature is currently in decline, why this matters, and how biology coupled with disciplines such as economics, can be harnessed to identify potential solutions.


Human Evolutionary Ecology: This course aims to explore genetic and behavioural adaptations in our species and to provide an integrated understanding of key issues in the evolutionary ecology of humans


Neuroethology: The Neural Basis of Adaptive Behaviour: The aims of the course are to explore the functions of brains and nervous systems at a circuit and cellular level and to link the generation of adapted behaviour to the properties of neural networks and the function of identified neurons..


Evolution and Behaviour: Genes and Individuals: This course aims to show: how genes and the environment combine to influence the development of adaptive behaviour; how adaptive behaviour can itself then drive further evolutionary change; and how variation in animal immune systems, sensory systems and cognitive abilities is adaptive under varying ecological conditions.


Cell assembly and interactions: This is an interdepartmental course taught with PDN. Cells are highly organised and dynamic structures. The module explores how the architecture of the cell is constructed and how cells interact with each other and their environment.


From Genome to Proteome: This interdepartmental course, taught with Biochemistry, considers approaches used to study the control of gene expression in eukaryotes.


Development: Patterning the Embryo: This is an interdepartmental course taught with PDN.  It is the first of two complementary modules (with Development: Cell differentiation and organogenesis) which can also be taken on their own. Our aim is to explore a fascinating biological question: how does a single cell, the fertilized egg, have all the information to make an animal?


Lent Term Modules

Mammalian Evolution and Faunal History: Mammalian Evolution and Faunal History considers the structure, function, mode of life, relationships, and basic systematics of mammals (and mammal-like reptiles): the faunal history of Tertiary and Pleistocene mammals: and the nature of microevolutionary change.


Responses to Global Change: This interdepartmental course, taught with Plant Sciences, aims to develop an understanding of how the environment, especially the climate, is changing and how the living world in responding. This course explores changes in birds, plants, water and nutrients with lectures given by people who work for conservation organisations, and ecological consultants, as well as academic ecologists.


Evolution and Behaviour: Populations and Societies: The aims of this course are to show how evolutionary theory can explain why life history patterns and behaviour vary, both between species and within a species, in relation to ecological conditions and social competition.


Applied Ecology: With ever increasing pressure on finite resources the world faces very serious environmental problems. This course is about what ecological science can do to help. Sometimes we must accept that undesirable changes will occur, but ecologists often have the knowledge to give advice on how to minimize the harm.


Genetics, Development and Animal Diversity: Genomes contain a rich record of the history of life on earth. This module will show how information contained in genome structure and gene sequences can be used to understand the processes of evolution, and to infer phylogenetic relationships.


Development: Cell Differentiation and Organogenesis: This is the second of two complementary interdepartmental modules in Developmental Biology, taught with PDN. This module will examine a second phase of development: cell differentiation and organogenesis. The two courses can be taken together or on their own.


Cell Cycle, Signalling and Cancer: This course aims to provide a broad molecular understanding of the processes underlying cell proliferation in normal development and disease. It aims to explore experimental systems to study tumour biology, and to critically discuss therapeutic strategies against cancer.


Programme Specification: Part II Zoology

This course is taught within the Department of Zoology, by members of staff of that Department together with some from other University Departments and external organisations.


  1. the Department aims to provide a broad multidisciplinary course in Zoology;
  2. to train students in a wide range of science-based skills that provide the learning base for future careers in disciplines such as health sciences, agriculture, environmental management, the engineering biotechnologies, publishing, journalism, teaching, research and management;
  3. to offer a modular course of lectures and associated seminars, research projects and practical classes, supported by supervisions where appropriate;
  4. to promote training in practical and conceptual skills in sub-disciplines ranging from molecular cell biology, through behaviour and neurobiology, to the ecology, evolution and conservation of populations;
  5. to provide constructive feedback on their progress by assessing individual students throughout the year in their project work, participation in seminars and written work for supervisions;
  6. to provide an optional Zoology-based course in statistics in the Michaelmas Term enabling students to apply quantitative methods to complex biological problems;
  7. to provide professional training in effective verbal and written communication skills.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should be able to:

  1. think critically in terms of their learning and research;
  2. evaluate critically the published literature;
  3. assess and implement the practical techniques necessary to solve a particular biological problem;
  4. quantify and analyse data collected during a research project;
  5. communicate with expert and non-expert audiences, both orally and in writing.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions, practical classes, journal clubs and a field course.We also run a series of special seminars for Part II students on topics such as postgraduate study, careers and study skills, and encourage students to attend Departmental research seminars. 


Assessment of this course is through:

  • four unseen written examinations (for aims 2, 4, 6 and 7 and learning outcomes 1-5);
  • two dissertations each of no more than 5,000 words based on two research projects or one dissertation of no more than 7,500 words based on a single research project: a single practical examination may replace either of the two shorter dissertations. Students also give a 15 minute assessed oral presentation on their research project (for aims 2, 4, 6 and 7 and learning outcomes 1-5);
  • a research paper of no more than 2,000 words (for aims 2, 4, 6 and 7 and learning outcomes 1-5).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: either Part IB of the NST; or Part IB of the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.