BIOU4BD: Biodiversity

CO-ORDINATOR: Dr Matt Tinsley 

Module Description

The biodiversity course sets out to introduce students to all the major groups of organisms which live on planet earth. This is a considerable challenge given the many millions of species which exist! The course takes a historical perspective, starting off by considering the simplest prokaryotic organisms and how life first evolved on the planet. We discuss the explosion of different invertebrate animal groups which probably occurred somewhere between 500 and 1000 million years ago. We look at what these invertebrate groups are and how they contribute to the majority of current species diversity on the planet. The lectures then focus in on our own lineage: the vertebrates. We consider where the vertebrates came from and what factors led up to the present dominance of the mammals in terrestrial habitats. Finally the course investigates the diversity of plants: the organisms on which most animal life depends. We look at the early evolution of the first plants, what helped them colonise terrestrial ecosystems and the processes which lead to the diversification of organisms into different species. During the lectures we discuss a wide range of biological topics relating to the organisms covered: their ecology, genetics, structure, development, behaviour, physiology and evolution.

Module Objectives

  • To present an overview of the diversity of microbial life.
  • To review the animal kingdom through a survey of invertebrates and vertebrates, gaining knowledge of animal form and function, ecological adaptation, evolutionary processes and phylogenetic relationships.
  • To understand the diversity of land plants and to introduce the evolutionary processes that have shaped this diversity.
  • To test relevant student knowledge under exam conditions.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Understand the diversity of microbial life on Earth.
  • Have knowledge of the major animal phyla, their characteristics and taxonomic context.
  • Appreciate the major evolutionary changes that typify the vertebrate lineage.
  • Know about the evolutionary origins of plants and about their identification.

Acquired Skills

By the end of the unit students will demonstrate they have:

  • Developed skills in information presentation, essay writing and literature research.
  • General skills in evaluation and synthesis of scientific information.
  • Developed the practical skills needed to investigate, identify and interpret biological specimens.



Total Study Time 200 hours
Scheduled Learning & Teaching 53 hours: lectures, seminars, practical classes and workshops, external visits, scheduled on-line discussions or similar
Guided Independent Study 147 hours: both directed learning undertaken in student's own time, and their own self-directed study for assessment
Placements 0 hours
Fieldwork 0 hours


Coursework 33%
Examination 50%
Practical 17%
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