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Unit information: Animal Behaviour in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Animal Behaviour
Unit code VETS23000
Credit points 40
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Academic Year (weeks 1 - 52)
Unit director Professor. Mendl
Open unit status Not open

BIOl11000, BIOL12000


VETS23001, VETS23002, VETS23003.

School/department Bristol Veterinary School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will introduce the essential principles of animal behaviour. The relationship between genes, the environment and behaviour will be explored. The underlying proximate and ultimate factors responsible for the causation of behaviour will be considered within a motivational framework. The causation of behaviour will be further explored by examining the relationship between behaviour and neuroendocrine function. This is currently a major and growing area of research and students of animal behaviour will require a grounding in this area in order to understand and critically evaluate developments in their field. This unit will provide an introduction to the basic principles of neuroscience and an overview of the neural bases of different forms of behaviour. This information will underpin subsequent programme units that examine neuroendocrine and immunological indicators of animal welfare and the concept of stress in relation to animal welfare. The functional aspects of animal behaviour will be considered within an evolutionary framework. This part of the programme will explore the adaptiveness of animal behaviour, the extent to which animals behave optimally and how the costs and benefits of different behavioural strategies can be determined. Animal communication, group living and predation avoidance will provide case studies. The basic ideas underlying applied animal behaviour will be introduced, providing an essential grounding for the Level H unit in Animal Behaviour.


This aim of the unit is to enable you to develop an understanding of the basic causal principles underlying animal behaviour, of the ways in which evolutionary theory is applied to animal behaviour, and to introduce you to basic ideas underpinning applied animal behaviour science.

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • describe and show understanding of the basic principles of animal behaviour;
  • distinguish between causal and functional explanations of animal behaviour;
  • describe the basic neuroendocrine processes underlying sensory perception, movement, sleep and rhythms, learning and memory;
  • use a range of motivational models to demonstrate how causal factors can be integrated to produce a behavioural output;
  • use evolutionary theory to predict and explain adaptive behavioural strategies adopted by animals subjected to natural selection, particularly in the areas of social living, anti-predator strategies, communication, mating and parental care.

Teaching Information

You will have fourty one-hour lectures, eight three-hour practicals and six DSE seminars. The structure of DSE seminars varies, but usually there will initially be 1 and a half hour’s contact time, followed by some time devoted to self-directed work, followed by further contact time with the teaching staff for feedback and discussion. The practicals and seminars comprise demonstrations, self-directed study, assignments, discussions, oral presentations, essay and report writing, and building a Wiki. You can find details of the schedule in the table overleaf.

Assessment Information

Your total mark for the unit will be made up of 25% from course work and 75% from the written final exam. In the final exam you will have to answer four essay questions out of a choice of six. The assessed course work consists one practical assignment (Recording Behaviour 2) accounting for 7%, and two DSE assignments (Development and, Housing Design) accounting for 9% each.

In addition, there will be essays and other assignments, for which you will get feedback, but which do not count towards your unit mark.

Reading and References

  • Adcock, J. (2009) Animal Behaviour: an evolutionary approach. (9th Edition) Sinauer Associates.
  • Barnard, C. (2004) Animal Behaviour: Mechanisms, Development, Function and Evolution. Pearson, Prentice Hall.
  • Berne R. and Levy M. (2005) Principles of Physiology. Mosby. (2004) Physiology. Mosby.
  • Guyton, A. (2005) Textbook of Medical Physiology, Elsevier.
  • Kolb, B., Whishaw, I.Q. (2001). An Introduction to Brain and Behaviour, Worth Publishers.
  • Martin, P., Bateson, P. (1998). Measuring Behaviour: An Introductory Guide. CUP.
  • Smith, C.U.M. (2000) Biology of Sensory Systems. Wiley.