Studying Darwin
Studying Darwin

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Studying Darwin

2 Animals at the extremes

The desert environment [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Animal life has adapted to survive in the most unlikely and inhospitable habitats. This course looks at the surprisingly diverse desert climates throughout the world and mammals, birds, lizards and amphibians that survive there. It splits these animals into three groups according to their strategy for survival: evaders, evaporators and endurers, then discusses how these strategies work on a biochemical and physiological level.

Hibernation and torpor

Hibernation is an ingenious adaptation that some animals employ to survive difficult conditions in winter. This course examines the differences between hibernation and torpor, and discusses the characteristic signs of hibernation behaviour. It explores the triggers that bring on hibernation, and whether internal signals or external season cues are predominant. It also examines the physiological adaptations that occur in hibernating animals. This course builds on and develops ideas introduced in the OpenLearn course (Animals at the extreme: the desert environment).

Polar biology

The extreme challenges of life in the polar regions require the animals who make their habitat there to make many adaptations. This course 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. This course builds on and develops ideas from two other 'Animals at the extreme' courses: (The desert environment) and (Hibernation and torpor).

Surviving the winter

In this course, we study one aspect of the fluctuating nature of an organism's environment. We consider how organisms living in a temperate climate, such as that in Britain, are adapted to cope with winter. You will see that there is much diversity of adaptations among organisms, with different species coping with the demands of a fluctuating environment in quite different ways. As cyclic variations are a widespread feature of environments, the range of adaptations to them is an important source of biological diversity.

Changing climate: island life in a volatile world

What impact will global warming really have? This course examines the potential problems faced by the people of the Pacific Island of Tuvalu as a result of rising sea levels. Where would you go if your island is only a few feet above sea level? Who would you blame?

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