Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Semester 2
BS22410 or BS23820
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Practical 2 x 3 hour practicals
Lecture 2 x 1 hour lectures per week


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Practical write-ups  20%
Semester Assessment Oral Presentation  10%
Semester Exam 2 Hours   70%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   Examination and/or re-submission of failed coursework or alternative  100%

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to-

  • demonstrate via a theory paper an understanding of how physiological processes in selected animals are controlled or modulated by variables in the environment
  • design, execute experiments, interpret data and write-up assessed practical classes in animal environmental physiology
  • work in a team to orally present an assessed illustrated animal physiology report incorporating previously acquired IT skills.


Environmental Animal Physiology builds on level one and two invertebrate and vertebrate zoology modules to provide via a series of integrated lectures, seminars and practical classes an understanding of the physiological mechanisms used by animals to survive and thrive in their natural environments.


The module provides a physiological understanding of how invertebrate and vertebrate animals cope with problems, and make the most of opportunities in their respective natural environments. The module starts with a review of the concept of environmental animal physiology or eco-physiology in context with more classical comparative animal physiology that often incorporates organ systems approaches within extreme animals without taking an evolutionary perspective. Environmental independent changes (development & periodic biological clocks) will be also highlighted. Evolutionary change will be described in terms of irreversible change within genotype and phenotype in populations and generations. The concept of adaptation will be reviewed: trait selected for by natural selection, controversy, when it is real, is it optimal?, and are all physiological traits adaptive?. This will lead to a description of non-adaptive evolution, pleoitropy, phylogenetic inertia, founder effect, and genetic drift. Methods to measure adaptation will be discussed (comparative, mutants, knockouts, phylogenetic reconstruction, genetic cline analysis). The mechanism of adaptation (molecular level) will be resolved, as also the relative importance of behaviour and selection in a fully functional animal. Fixed genotypes, long-term change will be explored with respect to phenotypic plasticity in individuals, and the terms acclimatization and acclimation and the potential for phenotypic plasticity to be adaptive will be assessed.

The five strategies in animal navigation of their environments will be examined: trail following, route learning, piloting, path integration, compass navigation and map and compass navigation. The adaptive significance of animal navigation will be outlined such as abilities to promote reproductive success and facilitate food acquisition. Throughput the module references will be made to the influence of modern human populations on the physiology of other animals

The physiological strategies used by a range of both invertebrate and vertebrate animals from selected aquatic and terrestrial environments will be studied. The aquatic block of lectures start with an examination of the physiological approaches for marine life, arguably the most trouble-free stable environment for animals on the planet. In addition, the depth, pressure, buoyancy, locomotion and sensory problems that occur in the deeper waters of the sea will be explored, as will regulatory strategies of secondary invaders of seawater, the marine vertebrates, including air breathers (birds, reptiles and mammals). The module will also look at animal examples from shoreline and estuary habitats, the interface of air, water and land. These animals often show convergent evolutionary physiological design solutions for surviving in their respective cyclically altering niches. Freshwater life has many environmental variables, and it is not only physiological approaches that are important in survival. The final topic in the aquatic section investigates the physiological and behavioural adaptations to extreme aquatic habitats, for example transient water bodies, osmotically peculiar habitats (salinity, acid & alkaline, oils) and thermally extreme waters such as deep-sea vents, hot springs and sea-ice
The key long-term and short-term physiological and behavioural strategies for terrestrial habitats (living in air) will form the next section. The domination of arachnids, insects and vertebrates on land via their supporting physiological mechanisms to avoid dehydration, maintain body temperature and gas exchange mechanisms will be a focus of this lecture block. The terrestrial section will also consider environmental adaptations in animals that endure extreme conditions such as hot and dry arid deserts, polar regions and altitudes.
Practical classes will allow the students to consolidate the lecture theory and develop skills in designing and executing their o

Reading List

Essential Reading
Willmer, Pat (Oct. 2004) Environmental Physiology of Animals 2nd ed.,Revised Wiley-Blackwell Primo search
Recommended Text
Randall, David (Dec. 2001) Eckert Animal Physiology 5th ed. W. H. Freeman & Company Primo search Schmidt-Nielsen (April 1995) Low Price: Animal Physiology Cambridge University Press Primo search Withers, Phillip C. (Jan. 1992) Comparative Animal Physiology Cengage Learning Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 6