In the 19th century description of the environment and the physiology of organisms led to the elucidation of Evolution by natural selection as the major force in shaping these systems. The emerging science of Biology was provided with a powerful tool when this descriptive information was combined with genetics. This modern synthesis defined the biosciences until the molecular revolution of the last decade. This has revealed the molecular motors that drive evolution and additionally provided new techniques that complement and broaden conventional approaches. Topics as diverse as molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, medicine, anatomy, taxonomy, ecology and animal behaviour all rely on an evolutionary view of the relationships between organisms, including humans, and the effects of natural selection upon them.
The issues highlighted by an evolutionary stand-point have relevance outside the confines of biology. Since the publication of the "Origin of Species" in 1859, evolutionary thinking has influenced numerous areas of human thought and activity, including social development, medical ethics, racism, literature and religion. An understanding of the occurrence and mechanisms of Evolution is essential for a complete understanding of the rapidly changing world in which we live.
Some of you will have covered some of the Evolution material in this course during your previous biology studies. Specifically, we assume you are familiar with Mendelian genetics, the causes of variation, Hardy Weinberg equilibrium, types of selection and mechanisms of speciation. These will be covered again and some topics dealt with in more detail. It is hoped that an understanding of the processes of Evolution will be relevant to all the studies you undertake. All biology courses will use the principles outlined in this course implicitly or explicitly.
We could have taken the decision to try to cover all of the major animal taxa in this module but the result would have been superficial coverage and a failure to ‘dig below the surface’ for any taxon. Instead, we took the decision many years ago to take a few taxa (i.e. insects, fishes, birds, mammals) and to study these in detail. Over the course of this we will build on the evolutionary ideas that have explored previously.
We will start with an introduction to the Animal Kingdom where in three lectures you will be introduced to the phylogenetic tree, the science of classification and the body plan of major taxa. Then, blocks of lectures will be provided that examine the biology of four taxa (see above) by discussing evolution, ecology, behaviour, morphology, anatomy etc. and, insodoing, you will be introduced to the principles of whole animal biology. Accompanying these lectures will be assessed practical sessions that introduce you to the applied and theoretical aspects of entomology and ornithology. Together, the animal biology part of the module will draw upon the research interests of the module contributors and introduce you to the wonders of the animal kingdom.