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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, including lab work, analysis, accessing and interpreting lecture content and the scientific literature, and developing writing and presentation 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


Lectures are scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11.00am – 12.00pm, with the first lecture scheduled for Thursday 5th October. The lectures will be held in the Main Lecture Theatre within the Department of Zoology and you are expected to attend in-person. Attending lectures in-person, gives you a much higher-quality learning experience, as well as the opportunity to interact with your peers and lecturers. There is also the opportunity to ask lecturers questions at the end of each lecture.

Most lectures will also be recorded and made available for you to view (but not download) on the Moodle site within 48 hours of the live lecture. Where lecture recordings are not made generally available, reasonable adjustments will be made for students with accessibility needs. N.B. The Teaching Office staff do not work weekends so Saturday lectures may not be available until the following Tuesday.

The full lecture timetable is available at; this will be live for students to access at the beginning of October. There may be minor changes to the timetable at short notice. Please check Moodle and your email regularly for notice of any changes.



Biology is a practical subject and the course therefore provides experience of basic techniques, and a range of experimental approaches that researchers use to study evolutionary processes. These practical sessions 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. You will be expected to attend one practical class per fortnight, either Mondays 13:30-17:30 or Tuesdays 13:30-17:30. You will receive confirmation from the Department of Zoology as to which group you have been allocated to at the start of the term. If extenuating circumstances mean that you cannot attend your assigned practical time please email the teaching administrator with details and they will attempt to accommodate you in another session; however it is important that you only switch practical group in genuinely extenuating circumstances.

With the exception of the first practical in Michaelmas Term, all practicals will be formally assessed and form part of your final mark in this subject at the end of the year. Instructions on how and when to submit your practicals, along with what to do if you require an extension, will be provided to you by the Zoology Teaching Office at the start of Michaelmas Term.


Field Courses

As part of the course you have the opportunity to attend one of the one-week field courses held away from Cambridge in the Easter Vacation, to either Slapton Ley in Devon or Dale Fort in Pembrokeshire. Both field courses cover the same range of material, including the chance to see some of the species you will learn about in the real world, to visit a range of wonderful habitats, to revisit some of the material to help you with exams, and to carry out your own independent research projects for the first time. Attending field courses is not a required component of the course, but Zoology encourage as many students as possible to attend. Students who attend often say that it is a highlight of their academic year.

Aim of field courses

To provide an introduction to the biology, ecology and diversity of organisms in natural habitats. To enable students to study, in their natural habitats, some of the organisms discussed during the lectures, and to illustrate some of the concepts, such as adaptive morphology and behaviour covered in the rest of the course. Students will be given the opportunity to carry out research on their own, or in small groups, which they will present in short talks at the end of the course.


20th – 27th March = Dale Fort Field Course

6th – 13th April = Slapton Ley Field Course

Applying for a course

Information on how to apply and advice to help you decide which course will best suit your interests will be available towards the second half of the Michaelmas term. Applications will be made online, and the closing date will be towards the beginning of the Lent Term. As there are a limited number of places on the courses, places will be allocated based on the enthusiasm and commitment shown in the ‘statement of interest’ from the application.


The field courses cost £50 to attend and students are responsible for arranging their own transport to/from the Field Centres. Most colleges offer travel grants for assistance with costs such as these.

Student comments on previous courses:

  • “The field course was a great experience. I would definitely recommend it to next year’s students.”
  • “Strongly recommended. Great time with everyone; friendly atmosphere and very knowledgeable demonstrators.”
  • “All the demonstrators were amazing. Extremely helpful and interesting.”
  • “It's been extremely useful to actually get out there, identify species, and observe behaviour, especially appreciate the polymorphism, variance, behaviour patterns, distribution etc., which are not so intuitively understood from a normal lecture."
  • “Everything was invaluable: field experience and applying practical skills; talking to the experts and revising lecture content often in a new, more realistic and interesting context.”
  • “The talks in the evenings were very useful revision, and the project work not only gave me a better understanding of the papers I read, but also gave me a taste of the sort of work I am likely to be doing in the future.”