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Unit information: Sex, Behaviour and Life Histories in 2020/21

Unit name Sex, Behaviour and Life Histories
Unit code BIOL30013
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Rands
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


Why does sex exist and why are there two sexes? How should animals organize their lives; when should they reproduce, where should they live, should they breed once or repeatedly and how many offspring should they have? Why must they grow old and die? During this unit we will present a unified evolutionary approach to explore the answers to these questions and understand the major factors shaping an organism’s life history, from birth, through growth, maturation and reproduction, to death. We will use economic (cost-benefit) principles to examine the trade-offs organisms face when they allocate time, energy and other resources to competing activities. This approach helps explain both the diversity of life-histories and fundamental properties of living things such as sex, individuality, death and the very design of the genome itself.

Intended learning outcomes

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

1. Explain the principles behind the main theoretical models in behavioural and evolutionary ecology;

2. Illustrate how these theories explain the major differences observed in the life histories and behavioural strategies of organisms;

3. Apply your knowledge and understanding of the principles of 1 and 2 above, supported by appropriate examples from the scientific literature, to propose hypotheses to explain novel observations and scenarios;

4. Apply the knowledge of relevant scientific literature to devise means of testing hypotheses proposed in 3, above.

5. Evaluate the strength of evidence presented in scientific literature relevant to the principles covered in the unit.

Teaching details

Lectures, directed reading, research and/or problem-solving activities; and independent study.

Assessment Details

Summative written assessment, with one essay question to be selected from a choice of two.

Reading and References

As befits a third year unit, nearly all the material is taken from research papers. You will receive a list of references for each lecture which will be made available at the start of teaching of this unit. There is no ‘standard text’ that summarizes all the course material in the necessary detail, but an excellent overview of the first series of lectures can be found in:

Ridley, M. (1994). The Red Queen. Penguin

Ridley, M. (2000). Genome. Fourth Estate

Further basic background information that might help, particularly if you didn’t study BIOL20104 Behavioural Ecology, can be found in:

Davies, N.B. et al. (2012). An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology. Fourth Edition.