BIOSCI 335 : Ecological Physiology


2023 Semester Two (1235) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

Focuses on the strategies used by animals to cope with physical and biological challenges in the environment. Accordingly, we work at the level of the individual and the interface between physiological, biochemical or molecular approaches on the one hand, and ecology on the other. The adaptive strategies employed by a range of species, with an emphasis on aquatic organisms, in response to physical factors such as temperature, oxygen and food availability, are considered. Energetics and nutrition are emphasised. The course aims to meet the needs of students with ecological interests wishing to recognise the experimental approach to solving problems in environmental biology. The practical work is project oriented rather than laboratory based.

Course Overview

Ecological (environmental) Physiology focuses on physiological diversity in relation to the environments in which organisms live. This course is about how animals acclimate, adapt or evolve to the physiological challenges of their environment. Considering the current anthropogenic changes we are observing, it is perhaps crucial that we understand and know how to measure the effects physical change places on organism’s capacities to tolerate, or adapt to changes. 

This course explores four things that limit life; 1) oxygen (hypoxia and anoxia), 2) temperature, 3) energy flow as inputs (food-anabolism) and outputs (catabolism), and 4) water and ion regulation (pH desiccation and freezing). The adaptive and evolutionary strategies employed by a range of species in response to these, are considered. While there is an apparent predominance of aquatic species (reflecting the research interests of participating staff), the course does cover terrestrial physiology (birds, mammals and insects). The course aims to meet the needs of people with ecological interests wishing to apply an experimental approach to solving problems in environmental biology. We attempt to achieve these aims through the use of research-based teaching. We offer insights into specialised research fields such as ecotoxicology. 

The practical work in this course involves laboratory work. While we do not to use any live vertebrates in the course, we do use live invertebrates (generally crustaceans and gastropods). For the crustacean work we test heart function non-invasively using infrared light and we expose them to different factors such as different temperatures, CO2 or O2 levels. 

This course feeds into pathways of ecology, evolutionary biology, marine, freshwater and animal biology and to a lesser extent molecular biology. It will help prepare a student for work in physiological research, ecology, physiological conservation, ecotoxicology, education, marine biology, aquaculture, zoo management and fisheries. This course also feeds into an active postgraduate groups in Biological Sciences. 

Course Requirements

Prerequisite: 15 points from BIOSCI 207, 208

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: Disciplinary Knowledge and Practice
Capability 2: Critical Thinking
Capability 3: Solution Seeking
Capability 4: Communication and Engagement
Capability 5: Independence and Integrity
Capability 6: Social and Environmental Responsibilities
Graduate Profile: Bachelor of Science

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate through discussion an understanding of the key concepts underpinning ecological physiology. Describe how animals acclimatize, or acclimate and are adapted to their physical and chemical environments. Describe methods used in physiology and how these are applied to animals in laboratory and field settings (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6)
  2. Be able to describe how animals acclimatize, acclimate or adapt to different stressors, such as limited oxygen, and food, excess or limited heat. Describe how comparative methods can be applied to explore differences in physiology such as rates of scaling, ageing, endothermy and digestion. Describe how physiology adjusts or responds to internal (i.e. exercise, fed/fasted states) or external (e.g. temperature, oxygen) changes. (Capability 1, 2, 3 and 4)
  3. Apply comparative methods to explore differences in physiology such as scaling or body size, rates of ageing, endothermy and digestion, or changes in environmental parameters. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  4. Communicate through assignments in a concise, precise and informed manner with reference to the literature. (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  5. Critically evaluate data from laboratory work, and then evaluate these data within contexts of lecture material, literature, theories and hypotheses. (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Laboratories 60% Group & Individual Coursework
In course tests 10% Individual Test
Final Exam 30% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5
In course tests
Final Exam
 Students must pass the practical laboratories and the theory (exam and in course tests) independently to pass the course overall.

The mark allocation usually consists of 15% per lab assignment (60% of final mark), 10% in course tests ( x 2) and 30% final exam. Therefore there is a significant weighting on assignments.


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Key Topics

Introduction-What is Ecophysiology
Methods in Ecophysiology
Measuring metabolism and issues of body size
Energetic costs of locomotion
Swimming energetics (goes with lab 1)
Muscle structure and extreme muscles
Hydration, water management
Acid base regulation
Blood-What is blood and principles of oxygen transport and blood
Upper limits of temperature
Hibernation and metabolic arrest
Diving Physiology
Hypoxia tolerance
Adaptations to altitude
Introduction to the digestive tract (Gastropod Lab week)
Nutrients, enzymes and transporters
Retention time and digestion of birds
Assimilation efficiency in fishes
Fermentation and fibre digestion
Digestion in marsupials and hindgut fermenters
The rumen
Diet and digestion in primates
Herbivorous fishes

Special Requirements

Attendance at laboratories is essential. Students are required to supply and wear a lab coat and safety glasses while in the teaching lab.

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard 15 point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week involved in each 15 point course that they are enrolled in. 

For this course, you can expect ~30 hours of lectures (3 hours of lectures per week) and 4 x 3 hour (12hrs total) laboratories, which run fortnightly.  Of the remaining ~70 hours you should spend reading and thinking about the content, laboratory write-up/assignments, practice questions, and, test/exam preparation.  

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

Attendance is required at scheduled activities including laboratories to complete components of the course.
We strongly recommend lecture attendance, but they will also be available as recordings. Other learning activities including tutorials will be available as recordings where possible.
The course will include live online events including group discussions/tutorials and tests for some sections.
The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable. 

Learning Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.

While the primary literature (journal articles etc.) is used, a useful fundamental text is Animal Physiology, third edition , Richard W. Hill, Gordon A. Wyse, and Margaret Anderson, 2012, Sinauer Associates

Student Feedback

During the course Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the staff responsible for the course and staff-student consultative committees.

At the end of the course students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback.

Your feedback helps to improve the course and its delivery for all students.

Content will be changed next year

Other Information

Online tutorials will be run when required for laboratories and to accompany lectures if requested (e.g. via Zoom). 

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed against online source material using computerised detection mechanisms.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.


The content and delivery of content in this course are protected by copyright. Material belonging to others may have been used in this course and copied by and solely for the educational purposes of the University under license.

You may copy the course content for the purposes of private study or research, but you may not upload onto any third party site, make a further copy or sell, alter or further reproduce or distribute any part of the course content to another person.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course students may be asked to submit coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.

Published on 31/10/2022 09:27 a.m.