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Synopses of lectures and practicals

Michaelmas Term
Behaviour and Ecology
Brains and Behaviour

Lent Term
Insect Biology
Vertebrate Evolutionary Biology

Easter Term
Evolutionary Principles

 

Michaelmas Term

Behaviour and Ecology

 


Prof Rebecca Kilner

Aims and Overview

We discuss the scientific study of animal behaviour, showing how predictions can be     derived from evolutionary theory and tested by comparative studies and experiments. In addition, we encourage you to think critically about how well observations match theoretical predictions and to consider alternative hypotheses, and to discuss from an evolutionary point of view how survival and reproductive strategies relate to the ecological and social environment. We consider in detail adaptive modifications of behaviour, the development of adaptive behaviour, and how an understanding of behaviour can contribute to animal welfare.

The first two lectures give an evolutionary perspective of how animals’ survival and reproductive strategies relate to their physical environment and an environment consisting of competitors and predators. Then follow four lectures considering in detail the various problems individuals have concerning survival and reproduction: foraging, avoidance of predators and brood parasites, parental care and co- operation and conflict in societies. The next four lectures look at the ways in which adaptive behaviour develops and how different developmental processes are themselves adaptive. The fifth lecture considers how animals organize their behaviour to do the right thing at the right time. The final lecture shows how understanding the mechanisms underpinning adaptive behaviour can help improve the welfare of captive animals. Throughout the course the emphasis is on the links between ecology, behaviour and evolution. Ecological factors provide the stage on which behaviour is played and, during evolution, natural selection will favour those behavioural and developmental strategies which maximize an individual’s chances of survival and its reproductive efficiency.

The practicals involve experiments to test some of the hypotheses discussed in the lectures so students will gain first-hand experience of collecting, analysing and interpreting quantitative data, of testing alternative predictions, and of writing concise reports to summarise conclusions.

 

Brains and Behaviour

Dr Marta Zlatic
Dr Berthold Hedwig

Aims and Overview

We aim to develop an understanding of common principles of neural function that are shared by a wide range of animals. The lectures illustrate how nervous systems have solved the operational problems posed by the need to generate patterns of behaviour. Our examples demonstrate how the elaboration of neural circuits in sensory and motor systems have permitted the exploitation of different habitats and the development of different lifestyles. The lectures illustrate the progression from simple systems to the more complex, and the changes in molecular and cellular structure that underlie changes in function. By linking the working of the nervous system to patterns of behaviour you will gain a basic understanding of the levels of internal organisation required to generate an adaptive response to the environment. This understanding will enable you to appreciate the many specialisations that have permitted the evolution of animal behaviour.

The first practical investigates motor mechanisms in insects. The second practical is concerned with the electric discharges and electric sense found in certain families of fish. A seminar provides the opportunity to discuss the ethics of the use of animals in science.

 

Lent Term

Insect Biology

Dr William Foster
Dr Walter Federle

Aims and Overview

We seek to convey to you an understanding of the biology of the insects, in particular their physiology, feeding biology, mating and reproductive behaviour, and the evolution of social behaviour. We will show how the study of insects contributes to our understanding of broad principles of evolutionary biology, and provide students with direct experience of handling, observing and studying living insects.

Insects are the most abundant and successful group of land animals. The course will outline the secret of the insects' success by a detailed study of their design and the adaptations of this design to an enormous diversity of lifestyles.

The lectures will cover the insect cuticle, respiration, water balance and locomotion; insect parasitoids; mating strategies; and the evolution of insect societies.

 

Vertebrate Evolutionary Biology

Dr Jason Head
Dr Rob Asher

Aims and Overview

The lectures aim to introduce the vertebrates and their complexity, disparity, and diversity, as well as outline their fundamental structures, common inheritance and unique specialisations. Through a synthesis of evolutionary and developmental studies, combining information from living and fossil species, the course aims to provide a good working knowledge of vertebrate anatomy and evolution. Practical classes complement the lecture material and also aim to teach skills of observation and interpretation using laboratory specimens and the collections of the Museum of Zoology.

In this section of Animal Biology, we ask questions such as: What are the vertebrates? How are they put together? How do they fit into the Tree of Life?  In addressing these questions, we discover more about ourselves and learn about the patterns and processes of evolution which underlie the whole of biology.

In lectures 1-6, the major evolutionary relationships of vertebrates will be introduced and will be used as a framework to illustrate the evolution and development of major tissue systems. Embryological, fossil, and modern anatomical data will be introduced to reveal the histories of skeletal, muscular, nervous, respiratory, circulatory, and sensory systems. In Lectures 7-12 we focus on amniotes to consider how a common set of embryological features unifies an otherwise very diverse array of vertebrates. Topics include amniote diversity, the evolution of viviparity, circulatory and respiratory systems, metabolism, feeding mechanisms, and hearing. Examples are drawn from both living and fossil amniote clades.

The lectures in both halves of the course are backed-up by practical classes designed to teach the elements of vertebrate structure, function and diversity.

 

Easter Term

Evolutionary Principles

Prof Rufus Johnstone
Dr Nick Mundy

Aims and Overview

This module will review the fundamental theories underlying evolutionary biology and consider the methods available to interpret, understand and predict the pattern and process of evolution. An understanding of evolutionary processes is of fundamental importance in Animal Biology. Here, we will investigate how organisms evolve at both phenotypic and genotypic levels, building up from models of evolution in populations to large-scale macroevolutionary patterns. We will examine the mechanisms of adaptation in populations involving single or multiple loci and how these can lead to predictions of future evolutionary change. In the final series of lectures we will discuss the powerful methodology that has been developed to uncover phylogenetic relationships among organisms, and the patterns and processes of character evolution.

The practicals will provide an introduction to some commonly used methods to reconstruct phylogenies and investigate evolution in a comparative framework.