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Study information

The Biology of Mammals

Module titleThe Biology of Mammals
Module codeBIO2431
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Robbie McDonald (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The biology of mammals and our relationships with them are often what attracted us most to a degree and career in zoology, ecology or conservation. In this course, we first build a foundation understanding of mammalian evolution and classification. We then explore the form and function, evolution, adaptation, ecology and management of recent mammals. We will use case studies to illustrate specific processes, often focusing on the unusual and exceptional. In the lab practicals we will explore anatomy and morphology using dissections of wild mammals, while online we will share experiences of people and practice in mammalogy with “in-conversation” sessions.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will build on the Stage 1 Introduction to Vertebrate Zoology and lay a foundation for Stage 3 modules and field courses. Because the content spans evolution, behaviour and conservation, this module will knit well with other Stage 2 modules and will suit multiple degree pathways. The aim is to establish a firm knowledge of the evolution and classification of mammals and then to explore mammalian diversity in form and function, across a breadth of taxa and environments. Case studies will be used to illustrate the insights that mammals provide into evolution and ecology in a wider context and will include reproduction, feeding, life history variation, domestication, diseases, conservation and management.

This module will provide a grounding in topics relevant to employment in research, policy and environmental management and regulation. The module builds on basic aspects of biology, then develops these, extending through to understanding of complex management and conservation scenarios. By completing the assessments you will develop the following skills that will transfer to future challenges in the workplace:

  • Independently formulating ideas and testing/evaluating these
  • Identifying, selecting and using information and data from disparate, and sometimes conflicting, sources
  • Prioritising information for presentation with constraints on time, space and style
  • Clear and succinct technical communication 

Teaching on this module draws on research undertaken by Robbie McDonald on mammalian ecology, diseases, management and conservation, particularly of British mammals, and by other academic staff in relation to mammalian physiology, reproduction and life history.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe the evolution and classification of mammals
  • 2. Explain in detail a range of case studies of mammalian form and function, ecology and management
  • 3. Exhibit confidence in safely handling, identifying and learning from mammalian specimens (live and dead)
  • 4. Explain the role and importance of evolution and adaptation to contemporary biological challenges

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

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

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

Syllabus plan

Lectures will cover the basics of evolution and classification of mammals, then recap in more detail over major aspects of form and function in each of the taxonomic groupings. In each case we will identify and discuss in more detail major topics of ecology, behaviour and management, including

  • evolution and classification
  • homeostasis, feeding
  • Reproduction and life history
  • domestication
  • diseases
  • conservation
  • biological invasions

Practicals will cover the form and function of mammals. In the laboratory we will dissect samples collected from pest control operations and, where possible, we will participate in a necropsy investigation of marine mammal strandings. A field practical will illustrate live trapping of small mammals. Online, we will participate in  ‘in-conversation’ discussions on people and practice in mammalogy.

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 teaching activities15Lectures & seminars: Establishing a foundation of evolution, classification, form and function of mammals and building on this with a range of case studies.
Scheduled learning and teaching activities11Practicals and seminars: Using dissection, demonstration of pathological investigations, online sessions. Practical guidance sessions.
Guided independent study124Reading and preparation for timetabled sessions, watching pre-recorded lecture material, write-up of practical assignment and preparation for assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during the lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the module1-14Oral

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 hours1-7, 9-11Written
Practical report on squirrel body condition401500 words1-12Turnitin, oral to the whole class and optional 1:1 surgery

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examination1-7, 9-11August re-assessment period
Practical report on squirrel body conditionPractical report on squirrel body condition1-12August re-assessment period

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 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

  • Feldhamer, Merritt, Krajewski, Rachlow & Stewart (2020) Mammalogy, 5th ed. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Vaughan, Ryan and Czaplewski (2014) Mammalogy, 6th edition. Jones and Bartlett.

e-books of these two textbooks are available from publishers. Seeking provision via the library. Key chapters will be available online via ELE.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Mammals, ecology, evolution, conservation, adaptation, morphology, behaviour, taxonomy, systematics, identification, management

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date