Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Aquatic Animal Physiology
Academic Year
Semester 2
BR23710 or BR22410 Either/Or (Pre Req): BS20910, BS22410, RS20910
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 20 lectures
Practical 1 x 3 hour practical class


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Practical class report.  40%
Semester Exam 2 Hours   60%
Supplementary Assessment Students must take elements of assessment equivalent to those that led to failure of the module.  40%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   Students must take elements of assessment equivalent to those that led to failure of the module.  60%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Discuss the mechanisms underpinning adaptation and describe how to measure adaptation.

2. Compare and contrast the problems that face invertebrate and vertebrates living within aquatic ecosystems.

3. Critically assess how physiological processes and behaviours in invertebrate and vertebrate animals are controlled or modulated by variables in the aquatic environment.

4. Design, execute an experiment and interpret data in aquatic animal physiology.

Brief description

The module provides a physiological and behavioural understanding of how invertebrate and vertebrate animals cope with problems, and make the most of opportunities in their natural aquatic 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. Throughput the module references will be made to the influence environmental change and modern human populations on the physiology of other animals
The aquatic block of lectures starts with an examination of the physiological adaptations for invertebrate marine life living within sea water, arguably the most trouble-free stable environment for animals on the planet. The lectures progress onto marine vertebrates (Myxiniformes, Chondrichthyes and teleosts), then moves to deal with brackish water, and on into the freshwater environment from both an invertebrate and vertebrate perspective. After which, the thermal adaptation of aquatic organisms within a variety of habitats is discussed, covering the open ocean, polar regions, intertidal etc. Specialised topics, such as regional endothermy are also discussed. Locomotion within the aquatic environment is governed by organism size and Reynolds forces; the lectures will discuss swimming in relation to viscosity and inertia, across a range of aquatic organisms both invertebrate and vertebrate. The cheap alternative to swimming employed by many aquatic invertebrates, employing buoyancy and increased drag, will also be investigated. Leading on from movement in the aquatic environment, the lectures will then deal with the subject of feeding and respiration. The subject matter will investigate the different methods employed by aquatic organisms, including air breathers, and the problems they face relative to their body size. The transmission of sound and light in water differs from those in air. The adaptation of sensory modalities in aquatic organisms will be reviewed. These will include vision and light production, sound production and reception, electroreception and mechanoreception. In addition chemical communication (Pheromones/kairomones) will be covered. Aquatic organisms are subjected to the monotonous daily cycling of light and dark or the ebb and flow of tidal cycles. Most possess internal ‘biological clocks’ that enable them to cordinate their behaviour and physiology to maximise fitness. This module will describe, using appropriate examples, the physiological basis of biological clocks and how they influence behaviour to suit prevailing environmental conditions. The module will also investigate the phenomenon of electricity generation and communication in aquatic vertebrates. The final topic in the aquatic section will cover the physiological and behavioural adaptations to extreme aquatic habitats, for example transient water bodies, osmotically peculiar habitats and thermally extreme waters such as deep-sea vents and hot springs.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Students will have opportunity to collect and interpret data in practical class with respect to quality and quantity. Feedback will be provided with returned assignment.
Communication Students will develop effective listening skills for the lectures, and subsequent discussion in practical class. Students will develop effective written communication skills in practical class write-up. Feedback will be provided with returned assignment .
Improving own Learning and Performance Students ability to devise and monitor time management, learning and performance skills throughout module via attending lectures, and practical class. The directed study elements provided in the module will specifically allow students to explore their own learning styles/ preferences, and identify their own needs and barriers to successful learning.
Information Technology Students will develop skills in accessing the web for information sources and using databases to find primary research literature for practical class write-up. Feedback will be provided with returned assignment.
Personal Development and Career planning Not a significant component of the module.
Problem solving Students will develop skills in lectures, seminars and practical class in differentiating methods for understanding physiological and behavioural strategies operating to survive in the aquatic environment. The practical class will allow students to gain experience in designing, executing, interpreting data and writing-up assessed aquatic animal physiology experiments. Feedback will be provided with returned assignment.
Research skills The practical class will allow the development of key aquatic animal physiology research skills. Feedback will be provided with returned assignment.
Subject Specific Skills The module will develop student skills in deciphering how specific groups of animals will cope with abiotic change in their natural aquatic environment.
Team work In the practical session the students will work in pairs/small groups. Therefore, they will need to discuss their experimental design and work effectively as a small team prior to confirming design with teaching staff. Preparation in practical class provides students with team work experience. Feedback will be provided verbally during practical and in writing with returned assignments.


This module is at CQFW Level 6