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Unit information: Neuroethology in 2022/23

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name Neuroethology
Unit code BIOL20026
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Holderied
Open unit status Not open
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School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Unit Information

The field of neuroethology takes a comparative and evolutionary approach to the fundamental links from physical stimuli that sensory systems encode and feed into brains that in turn create animal behaviour. The unit will provide a direct link between the sensory ecology taught in year 1 (in BIOL12000 Life Processes and BIOL10002 Key Concepts for Biologists) and in year 3 (in BIOL31132 Sensory Ecology). Together they provide a logical sensory biology and neuroethology pathway through the biology degree. Our aims are:

  • To examine our current understanding of how sensory information is processed and results in complex behaviour and decision making.
  • To introduce the diverse nature of stimuli measured by sensory modalities.
  • To explore cellular transduction mechanisms and resulting neuronal encoding.
  • To gain insights into sensory bias and anthropocentric interpretation.
  • To teach fundamental concepts about how neural circuits work.
  • To describe current research that uses modern interdisciplinary research techniques.
  • To distinguish and compare the brains of different animals.
  • To discuss how brain functions have specialised through the process of evolution.
  • To describe complex cognitive abilities such as navigation.

Throughout the course we will emphasize how technological innovations and advances have driven the development of the field over recent years.

Attendance at the practical sessions for this unit is required.

Your learning on this unit

By the end of this unit, students should be able to:

  • Explain the key concepts of neuroethology
  • Describe the physical stimuli underlying the sensory transduction processes
  • Describe sensory transduction and processing mechanisms
  • Explain sensory bias and how this links to a species' ecology
  • Explain the basic operation and processing potential of simple adaptive neuronal networks
  • Describe the primary structures in the central nervous systems of a variety of species that process sensory information
  • Describe how multiple-sensory input determines behaviour
  • Explain how sensory, morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations have evolved through natural selection
  • Contrast alternative models of brain evolution
  • Critically discuss the relationship between brain size, structure and cognition
  • Demonstrate understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of the subject areas
  • Interpret and employ the principles of experimental design, hypothesis testing and statistical analysis of psychophysical and neuroethology data.
  • Read, interpret and evaluate scientific papers on evolutionary neuroethology

How you will learn

Lectures, directed reading, research and/or problem-solving activities, practical exercises, and independent study. There will be two formative practical classes and two summative.

How you will be assessed

Coursework from the practical classes (40%) plus summative written assessment (60%) with one essay question to be selected from a choice of three. The ILOs are assessed in both the CA and summative written assessment.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. BIOL20026).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.