Environmental Physiology and Epidemiology | Abertay University

Environmental Physiology and Epidemiology


The module provides the underpinnings of the way that organisms, from the unicellular to higher plants and non-human vertebrates, perform basic physiological functions to sustain life. It provides an insight into the myriad ways that organisms can solve common and inter-related fundamental problems associated with water balance, gas exchange and obtaining nutrition, and explores the adaptations to environmental challenges. It introduces students to the assessment of health and disease in livestock, plants and wildlife, and issues of pathogen transfer between wildlife and humans.


The aim of this module is to provide the student with a firm understanding of physiological mechanisms that underpin health and survival in a diverse range of organisms, an appreciation of the commonalities and inter-relationships between the challenges and the range of solutions across different taxa, and provide them with experience of physiological measurements and experimental design. It highlights the link between physiology, health and disease in wildlife, crops and livestock.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  Outline common challenges and diverse solutions to a range of environmental challenges across different taxa.

2.  Compare and contrast physiological mechanisms used to maintain gas exchange, water, pH, thermal and energy balance between different taxa.

3.  Design and analyse simple experiments to test the effects of environmental change on physiological mechanisms.

4.  Describe the links between health, stress and disease in wildlife, crops and livestock.

5.  Describe the conditions under which zoonoses are likely to be transferred, and evaluate mechanisms used to identify them and control their spread.

6.  Differentiate between epidemiological methods used to infer risk factors for disease in wildlife, livestock and crops, and compare epidemiological with experimental evidence.

Indicative Content

1 Energetics and photosynthesis

The importance of ATP; use of alternative electron acceptors.

2 Obtaining water and nutrition across taxa

Energy and water balance mechanisms; acid-base balance across taxa ; challenge of ocean acidification.

3 Challenges and solutions to gas exchange

Thermal physiology and climate change.

4 Basis of epidemiology

Challenges of epidemiology in the wild; use of risk factors and case control studies; inference from epidemiology.

5 Methods to assess health, stress and disease across taxa

What are zoonoses, how are they identified, treated and their spread controlled.

Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

This module will be delivered through a series of lectures, tutorials and 4 3 hour labs in which the interactions between organisms and their environment will be investigated at the whole animal, system and gene level. The tutorials will be used to support the labs and epidemiological teaching materials. Assessment will be through a viva based on laboratory reports plus key reading material discussed in tutorials, and a final exam. Labs will be based on examining Q10, and its use in exploring thermal sensitivity across species; working in groups, students will have the opportunity to design their own experiments on a limited number of invertebrate or plant species to explore the effect of environmental change on a range of short term responses including whole organism down to gene expression level. They will be required to analyse the data and will be examined in the viva on experimental design, including choice and outcomes of statistical tests, and explanations for the phenomena observed in the lab.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 26
Tutorial/Seminar 13
Supervised Practical Activity 12
Unsupervised Practical Activity 0
Assessment 50
Independent 99

Guidance notes

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2017/18 , and may be subject to change for future years.