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Study information

Development of Behaviour

Module titleDevelopment of Behaviour
Module codeBIO2428
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Neeltje Boogert (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Biologists often record the behaviour of animals at some time point in their life and use evolutionary theory to explain the observations. However, the behaviour of animals, including humans, is also influenced by the environment. Indeed, accumulating evidence not only shows that the environment experienced from conception can have defining, life-long consequences on behaviour, but that there can also be significant effects of parental and even grandparental environments. In this module you will learn about the key developmental factors that influence animal behaviour, survival and reproductive success. You will also learn which environmental factors during development are most defining and how they impact animals, as well as the evolutionary and cultural implications.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is broadly to appreciate that the developmental history of animals can help to understand their present behaviour. Specifically, we will:

  • expand our understanding of the factors that govern animal behaviour;
  • explore the developmental processes that most influence animal behaviour;
  • elucidate the relative importance of past experiences on understanding current behaviour of individuals and groups;
  • appreciate the role of parental and grand-parental effects on behaviour;
  • understand the (epigenetic) mechanisms of environmental effects;
  • begin to put our understanding of development into a new evolutionary framework for understanding animal and human behaviour.

The module will provide a number of specific and transferrable skills that will have a direct impact on employability. These include:

  • the ability to think and articulate concepts individually;
  • the ability to coordinate and galvanise an effective team;
  • time management (managing time effectively on your own and as part of a group);
  • self and peer review (taking responsibility for own learning, using feedback from multiple sources);
  • the ability to design and perform experiments in science; and
  • presentation skills and audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats).

Furthermore, the module will provide a firm foundation of the latest developments in the field, with significant benefits to those wishing to pursue a career in evolutionary and behavioural ecology, evolutionary medicine and animal cognition or behaviour.

This module will be taught by scientists whose research is heavily focussed on understanding the role of development in animal behaviour. Module lead Dr Neeltje Boogert investigates the causes and consequences of developmental effects on the behaviour of social birds and mammals. Prof Alex Thornton is an expert in the development of animal cognition and culture, and Dr Laura Kelley’s research focuses on animal perception, sensory processing and courtship signalling.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Recognise and discuss the factors that affect development
  • 2. Identify and explain the effects of development for animal behaviour
  • 3. Describe and illustrate theoretical concepts of relevance
  • 4. Explain evolution by natural selection and the role of behavioural plasticity
  • 5. Construct coherent arguments of how development can be integrated into an extended evolutionary theory

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 6. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 7. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 8. Identify and implement, with guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing specific research problems in biosciences
  • 9. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 10. Describe and 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...

  • 11. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 12. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 13. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 14. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills, and apply own evaluation criteria
  • 15. Reflect effectively on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

We will introduce the module by defining behaviour, explaining why it can be considered an evolvable phenotype, and describing examples of behavioural plasticity. We will then go on to discuss the development of animal behaviour with a focus on the following traits: personality and cognition, learning and culture, perception and signalling, ageing and parental effects. Finally, we will discuss the role of behaviour in “extended phenotypes”, and begin to integrate such effects into a broader understanding of evolution.

Practical classes will serve to illustrate key points made in lectures using teaching, learning and culture as examples. The module will be delivered using a hybrid approach of pre-recorded lectures and face-to-face discussions and practicals.

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 teaching18Each term week will have ca. 2 pre-recorded lectures and a timetabled in-person discussion session
Scheduled learning and teaching7Laboratory practicals conducting a scientific study of relevance from start to finish
Guided independent study125Additional reading, research and preparation for laboratory report and essay examination

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the module1-15Oral
Lab presentationDuring 3rd lab12Oral (feedback and demonstration)

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
Essay examination602 hours1-13Written
Laboratory report401200 words1-13Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examination1-13August re-assessment period
Laboratory reportNot 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 assessment. 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

  • Freeman, S. and Herron, JC. Evolutionary Analysis, 4th Edition. Pearsons. Chapter 19.
  • Campbell Biology, 9th Edition. Pearsons. Chapters 47, 51.
  • Alcock, J. 2009. Animal Behaviour, 9th Edition. Sinauer Associates. Chapter 3.
  • Shettleworth, S. 2010. Cognition, Evolution, and Behaviour. New York: Oxford University Press. Chapters 4 & 13

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Evolution, maternal investment, animal behaviour, ecology, development, life-history theory, parent-offspring conflict, senescence, observation

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites

BIO2430 Behavioural Ecology

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date