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Unit information: Optimisation, Behaviour and Life Histories in 2016/17

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Unit name Optimisation, Behaviour and Life Histories
Unit code BIOL31134
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Cuthill
Open unit status Not open

None, but we strongly advise that students should previously have studied BIOL20104 Behavioural Ecology. If you have not taken this unit, consult the Unit Director for suggested background reading.



School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Description including Unit Aims


We present a unified evolutionary approach to understanding the major factors shaping an organism’s life history, from birth, through growth, maturation and reproduction, to death.


We use economic (cost-benefit) principles to examine the trade-offs facing organisms when they allocate time, energy and other resources to competing activities. This approach helps explain both the diversity of life-histories (e.g. why some organisms breed once then die, while others breed repeatedly to an old age; why males and females are strikingly different in some species but alike in others) and fundamental properties of living things such as sex, individuality, death and the very design of the genome itself.

Intended Learning Outcomes

After doing the unit, we expect you to (1) be able to explain the principles behind the main theoretical models in behavioural and evolutionary ecology; (2) be able to use these theories to explain the major differences observed in the life histories and behavioural strategies of organisms; (3) be able to apply the principles to predict the basis of novel observations and to devise means of testing your predictions.

Teaching Information

Lectures, interactive seminars/workshops and independent study.

Assessment Information

End of Session exam (100%)

Reading and References

Most of the lecture material for the specific subjects considered in this Unit is taken from research papers and is not covered in any one textbook. You will receive a list of references at the start of teaching of this unit.

As accessible background texts use:

  • Ridley, M. (1994) The Red Queen. Penguin
  • Ridley, M, (2000) Genome, Fourth Estate