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Introduction to Vertebrate Zoology

Module titleIntroduction to Vertebrate Zoology
Module codeBIO1419
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Andrew McGowan (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module will sweep you all the way from the origin of the vertebrates to the evolution of Homo sapiens via a series of carefully constructed lectures and practical sessions. Field trips will provide you with the opportunity to further develop your understanding of animal diversity by focusing on animal function and adaptations to differing environments and ecosystems. By the end of the module you will have gained a core understanding of the key concepts in evolutionary biology and ecology along with an understanding of the diversity of vertebrate life from a functional perspective that will provide you with an excellent knowledge platform for further modules. Furthermore, you will be encouraged to use the coursework to develop your own interest in vertebrate zoology by considering real-world scenarios that will better equip you to apply the theory you have learned to practical situations in the workplace.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will provide you with an understanding of the diversity of vertebrate animal life from a functional perspective. You will be exposed to a suite of lectures encompassing all the major vertebrate groups from fish to humans and will range in content from classification and defining characteristics and will touch on interesting aspects of reproduction, physiology, behaviour and evolution. In practical classes you will be exposed to animal diversity concentrating on function and adaptation to environments and ecosystems. The module will provide you with core knowledge of animal diversity and macroevolutionary patterns that will form a platform for future modules. The module complements other biological modules in Stage 1, particularly Introduction to Conservation and Ecology, Introduction to Evolution and Behavioural Ecology, and Field and Laboratory Techniques, providing a foundation for Stage 2 modules at the Penryn Campus.

Working both singly and in groups, the module aims to develop a series of transferrable skills including:

  • time management,
  • problem solving, and
  • data handling and interpretation.

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as work on aspects of sea turtle reproductive ecology and the breeding strategies and ecology of avifauna. Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the various labs and exploring some of the ideas raised during lectures.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Outline the fundamentals of organismal biology and the key defining characteristics of all the major vertebrate animal groups
  • 2. Critically examine specimens for key adaptations to ecological niches
  • 3. Evaluate different methods and techniques for generating biological information and data

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 5. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples into written work
  • 6. Identify and implement, with some guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing a specific research problem in biosciences
  • 7. With guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 8. Describe and begin to evaluate approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Develop, with guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound conclusions
  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories using a variety of formats means in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 11. Collect and interpret appropriate data and undertake straightforward research tasks with guidance
  • 12. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills identified by others
  • 13. Reflect on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Lectures begin with a background to the course and some of the underlying key concepts and theories that are central to zoology. Continues with lectures on the Evolution of Chordates; Fish; Amphibians; Reptiles; Birds; Mammals; and the Evolution of Humans. The emphasis will be on defining the key characteristics of the main phylogenetic groups and understanding adaptations from a functional perspective.

Practicals will be varied and will predominately focus on specimens in the field and in the laboratory. These will essentially further enforce the material taught during the lectures i.e. range of diversity within and between animal groups, their defining characteristics, and the functional perspective of adaptations – asking the question ‘how do the adaptations we see in the organisms in front of us fit them to life in the environments from which they came?’

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching22 Lectures include material on Evolution of Chordates; Fish; Amphibians; Reptiles; Birds; Mammals; and the Evolution of Humans.
Scheduled learning and teaching9Laboratory practical work includes practical sessions looking at the diversity and functional morphology of all chordates groups.
Scheduled learning and teaching8Field trip to a local zoo.
Guided independent study111Additional reading and research for the laboratory reports and the examinations.


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and fieldwork sessionsOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Laboratory report 11000 words1-6, 7-11Feedback sheet

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
MCQ examination601 hour1-6, 8Model answers
MCQ class test301 hour3, 7-8, 11Model answers
Laboratory report 2101000 words1-6, 7-11Feedback sheet


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
MCQ examinationMCQ examination1-6, 8August assessment period
MCQ class testMCQ examination1-6, 8August assessment period
Laboratory report 2Not applicableNot applicableNot applicable

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The laboratory report is not deferrable because of its practical nature. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Campbell NA, Reece JB (2008) Biology, 8th Ed. Pearson. ISBN 0-321-53616-7/0-321-53616-9
  • Hickman, Roberts, Keen, Larson Eisenhour Animal Diversity 4th Edn McGraw-Hill. ISBN 13: 978-0-07-110670-2 / 10: 0-07-11670-7
  • Pough, F.H., Janis, C.M. and Heiser, J.B. 2005. Vertebrate Life 7th, 8th or 9th Edition, Pearson. ISBN 0-13-127836-3

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Zoology, biodiversity, phylogeny, evolutionary biology, systematics, adaptations

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date