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Course Aims


To provide a course on evolutionary biology that introduces you to the major principles of evolutionary theory, and ranges from the origins of life, through the evolution of plants and animals to the evolution of humans and behaviour, culminating in a look at the future of evolution and diversity in the context of human-mediated global change. To prepare you for subsequent biology courses that require an understanding of evolution, behaviour, ecology and conservation.


  • To show how natural selection ultimately underpins all biological processes and how evolution has generated biological diversity;
  • To outline the major transitions in evolution, from the origin of life and of sex, to hominid evolution;
  • To investigate the evolutionary basis of behaviour in animals, including humans and other primates;
  • To gain a clear appreciation of the critical consequences of global change and human interactions with the natural world on the evolution and diversity of life;
  • To develop understanding of practical biological skills

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course you should

  • Have an enhanced knowledge and appreciation of evolutionary biology, behaviour, ecology and conservation;
  • Be able to develop cogent and critical arguments based on the course material;
  • Be able to perform, analyse and report on experiments and observations in whole-organism biology;
  • Be able to integrate related topics from separate parts of the course.

Course Structure


This year all of your IA Evolution & Behaviour lectures will be recorded and made available for you to view (but not download) on the course Moodle site.  There are three lectures per week, which will be posted on the site by 11am on the scheduled dates (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) as per the course timetable. A synopsis of these lectures is given in the course handbook, which is available on the course Moodle site.

Question & Answer sessions

As your lectures will be pre-recorded, we will supplement these with regular live Q&A sessions so that you can interact with, and ask questions of, lecturers. These will be added to your online lecture timetable (via along with your lectures. Further details on these sessions will be provided via the course handbook. Please note that these are not intended to replace detailed discussions of material that you will have in your supervisions, but rather are a chance to ask specific questions of the lecturers about lecture content.


Biology is a practical subject and the course therefore provides experience of basic techniques and a range of experimental approaches that researcher use to study evolutionary processes. These are an integral part of the course and it is essential that you take part in all of them, submitting work to be assessed as required. Because of the extraordinary situation this year, all of the practical classes in the first term will be run remotely, but we will review this situation for later terms, posting any updates on a specific section of the Moodle site.

Individual practical sessions and formats may vary slightly, but students should keep 2 – 5.30pm free on the days where they have been assigned to a practical slot for this course. Initially you will have been registered for either the odd or even weeks of term - you will receive confirmation from us as to which Group you have been allocated to (there are four which run over a period of two weeks). However, please note that for some practicals we may join groups together (i.e, the two Monday groups) – this will be clearly detailed on the course Moodle site.

If for some reason you cannot attend your assigned practical time please email with details. It may be possible to accommodate you in another session.  You are expected to write up each practical. With the exception of the first practical in Michaelmas Term, all practicals will be formally assessed and form part of your total mark in this subject at the end of the year. Should this change during the year we will inform you in good time. These assessed practicals must be written up and submitted via a submission link on the course Moodle site one week after your practical session. Some practical organisers may choose to only assess certain components of the practical.  Marks and feedback will be returned to you via the Moodle site – more information on this process will be posted on the Moodle site.

Under the circumstances all assessed practical material will be completeable online if necessary, for example, if a student is unable to attend any of the live sessions due to extenuating circumstances they will be able to work through the material at a later date and not be disadvantaged. Alternatively it is possible for students to be awarded an average mark for a missed practical by our Senior Examiner (your DoS would need to have first provided a letter/email of support). Students in this position should please contact their DoS and the teaching office to make them aware.

Field Courses

You have the opportunity to attend one of the one-week field courses held away from Cambridge in the Easter Vacation.  Currently we are still intending to run these courses and will be advertising them further towards the end of Michaelmas Term; however, please note that they are subject to cancellation under the circumstances. We will keep students informed and will base our decision on the latest health and safety advice.