Neurobiology and Animal Behaviour

Module code: BS2077

Module co-ordinator: Dr Swidbert Ott

Many animals behave in ways that are very alien to us — be it bats that use echolocation, or fishes that sense their environment through self-generated electric fields. Understanding how their brains achieve these feats is both fascinating, and indispensable for understanding why animals behave the way they do. Yet there is another, equally important level of understanding why animals behave in certain ways: behaviours have evolved in response to multiple and often conflicting selection pressures, as animals struggle to survive and reproduce by exploiting and competing for resources, avoiding predators, selecting mates, and caring for their offspring.

In this module we will explore these two kinds of understanding, which are known as proximate and ultimate explanations.

The first part of this module is shared with the Behavioural Neurobiology module. You will study neurobiological mechanisms that underpin different kinds of behaviour in a broad range of animal species. The second part is specific to this module. Here we will explore how behaviour is shaped by evolution and ecology — a line of enquiry known as behavioural ecology. Again, we will draw examples from across a range of vertebrate and invertebrate species.

Topics covered

  • Neural mechanisms across a broad range of different behaviours
  • Experience, learning and the developing brain
  • Phenotypic plasticity of behaviour
  • Ecological factors that shape behaviour
  • The role of genetics in behaviour
  • Animals as economic decision makers
  • Cooperation and conflict
  • Costs and benefits of social behaviours
  • Evolution of divisions of labour


  • 30 one-hour lectures
  • 12 hours of practicals
  • 5 hours of tutorials (1 two-hour tutorial + 3 one-hour tutorials)


  • Practicals (30%)
  • Exam, 3 hours (70%)