Polar Biology OpenCourseWare: The Open University's Free Undergraduate Course on Polar Biology

Published Feb 17, 2009

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'Animals at the extremes: Polar Biology' is a free course from The Open University that may function as a supplement or review for students pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences. The OpenCourseWare takes a look at the biology of animals who live in very cold climates. Their physiological and structural adaptations provide clues as to how humans might cope with similar conditions that can be brought out by such pathological factors as obesity.

Animals at the Extremes: Polar Biology: Course Specifics

Degree Level Free Audio Video Downloads
Undergraduate Yes No No Yes

Lectures/Notes Study Materials Tests/Quizzes
Yes Yes Yes

Animals at the Extremes: Polar Biology: Course Description

This course gives students a view of the biological factors that make it possible for animals to live in the very cold Polar Regions of the planet. Students learn about the unique characteristics of both the Arctic (northern polar) and Antarctic (southern polar) habitats, as well as how these two differ.

Students learn how the length of daylight affects feeding behavior, fatty tissue deposition and reproduction. The course also examines how adaptations to environmental controls, such as appetite levels, activity and fecundity (fertility - able to produce offspring), are necessary for animals living in areas of high latitudes.

Some physiological mechanisms that achieve this are looked at, including the bone formation of bears. Some polar animals, such as penguins, fast for long periods, and students taking this course examine the metabolic controls that makes this possible.

Thermal insulation in both aquatic and non-aquatic species is essential to survival, and students learn about the application of comparative studies to distinguish the adaptations (both physiological and anatomical) that affect such insulation. Fish, too, are looked at, particularly regarding adaptations of circulatory and respiratory systems.

The course consists of a series of readings, unit questions, figures and references to additional reading. If you'd like to take this course, visit the polar extremes course page.

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