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Animals at the extremes: Polar biology

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The extreme challenges of life in the polar regions require the animals who make their habitat there to make many adaptations. This free course, Animals at the extremes: Polar biology, explores the polar climate and how animals like reindeer, polar bears, penguins, sea life and even humans manage to survive there. It looks at the adaptations to physiological proceses, the environmental effects on diet, activity and fecundity, and contrasts the strategies of aquatic and land-based animals in surviving in this extreme habitat.

By the end of this free course you should be able to:

  • define and use, or recognize definitions and applications of each of the bold terms;
  • outline the special features of the polar regions as a habitat and list some contrasts between the Arctic and the Antarctic;
  • describe some effects of daylength on feeding, fat deposition and reproduction in arctic animals;
  • explain why the environmental controls of appetite, activity level and fecundity are essential adaptations to living at high latitudes and describe some physiological mechanisms involved;
  • describe some adaptations of fuel metabolism and bone formation to dormancy in bears;
  • describe the metabolic control of prolonged fasting in breeding polar bears and penguins;
  • explain the use of comparative studies to identify anatomical and physiological adaptations to thermal insulation in aquatic and terrestrial endotherms;
  • describe some adaptations of the blood, respiratory system and muscles of fish to the polar environment;
  • explain the role of fatty acid profiles in investigating the diet of polar vertebrates.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 14 hours
  • Updated Thursday 11th October 2012
  • Intermediate level
  • Posted under Natural History
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Animals at the extremes: Polar biology


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This unit is the third in a series of three on Animals at the extreme. In order to get the most from it you should have previously studiedAnimals at the extreme: the desert environment (S324_1)andAnimals at the extreme: hibernation and torpor

This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Animal physiology (S324) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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