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Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
Department of Zoology, Oxford University - - 1309633.jpg
View of the Department of Zoology Tinbergen Building at Oxford University from the New College Sports Ground on St Cross Road.
PurposeResearch and teaching in zoology
Head of Department
Ben Sheldon, Tim Coulson[citation needed]
Parent organization
University of Oxford

The Department of Zoology, founded in 1860,[citation needed] is a science department in the University of Oxford’s Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division.[1]


The Department of Zoology is known internationally for its research on ecological and evolutionary biology.[citation needed] Its research spans all levels from molecules to ecosystems, and tackles fundamental problems in disease biology, evolutionary mechanisms, conservation biology, biodiversity, evolutionary developmental biology and animal behaviour. This diversity is echoed in teaching: the Department of Zoology and Department of Plant Sciences jointly deliver a broad-ranging and highly regarded undergraduate degree in Biology.[2] Within its broad research portfolio, the Department incorporates several research institutes such as the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology (EGI), the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU); several members of academic staff work within the Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research.

The Department of Zoology currently[when?] has approximately 60 academic staff and research fellows. It also houses large groups of post doctoral researchers (~100) and graduate students (~160).[3] 

External research income to the Department is derived from over 50 different funding agencies, with the principal funders over the period 2015-2020 being the European Research Council, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust, NERC and BBSRC. Recent success with the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) is substantial; since 2007 the Department has hosted a total of 20 awards: eight Advanced Investigator awards, four Consolidator awards, six Starter awards and two Proof-of-Concept awards.

The Department of Zoology holds an Athena SWAN Bronze Award and aims to recognise advancement of gender equality: representation, progression and success for all.[citation needed] Equality, diversity and inclusion is at the core of our communication strategy, and our engaged community of early career researchers often hold seminars, meetings and social events to bring together all members of the Department.[4]

Many distinguished scientists have worked in the Department at various stages in their careers, including three Nobel Laureates (Peter Medawar, Niko Tinbergen, and Sir John Gurdon), three winners of the Crafoord Prize (Bill Hamilton, Ilkka Hanski, Bob May), the Kyoto Prize (Bill Hamilton) and Blue Planet Prize (Bob May), as well as four winners of the Copley Medal (the Royal Society’s premier research award). Members of the department have a distinguished record of public service in the sciences, including the Presidentship of The Royal Society (Bob May, 2000–2005), and with numerous honours awarded to reflect this service.[citation needed]

Research themes

The Department of Zoology carries out research on a very broad range of topics, though with an emphasis on problems involving how organisms evolve and interact with their environment.[citation needed]

Research is organised under four broad themes:[citation needed]


Animal Behaviour research in Oxford has a long and distinguished history, beginning with the arrival of Niko Tinbergen (who was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize) in 1949. Since then, research from both mechanistic and evolutionary standpoints has flourished, with the work of Richard Dawkins, Bill Hamilton and Marian Dawkins. The Department played a pivotal role in the development of the field of Behavioural Ecology, with John Krebs and Nick Davies co-authoring the book that defined the field. Current behavioural research employs a wide range of approaches from field and laboratory studies, and from theoretical modelling via biomimetrics to applied animal welfare research. A wide range of organisms are studied from bacteria to vertebrates.

Ecology and Conservation

Research in the Department of Zoology played a major role in the emergence of modern ecology, especially through the work of figures such as Charles Elton, David Lack, Richard Southwood and Robert May. Current ecological research in the Zoology Department includes field studies, laboratory experiments and theoretical modelling, and involves organisms that range from birds and mammals through insects and plants to bacteria and viruses. It addresses both fundamental questions, as well as important issues in population management and conservation.

Evolution and Development

The study of Evolution has a long and distinguished history in Oxford, beginning with Ray Lankester in the 1890s and thriving through the twentieth century with work on kin selection and the selfish gene by Bill Hamilton and Richard Dawkins, and development of the ‘comparative method’ by Paul Harvey and others. Current evolutionary biology research uses field and laboratory studies, experimental evolution and genome analyses on a range of organisms including viruses, bacteria, yeast, protists and animals.

Developmental Biology has a similarly long history, from J. W. Jenkinson a century ago, through research into cellular reprogramming by John Gurdon (leading to a Nobel Prize in 2012), the early transgenic work of Frank Constantini and Elizabeth Lacy, and hosting of the ICRF Developmental Biology Unit in the 1990s. Current developmental biology research includes studies on evolutionary developmental biology, regeneration and the cell cycle.

Infectious Disease

The Zoology Department houses a number of research groups working on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. The topics explored range from pathogen life-history strategies and corresponding host defences to the interaction of hosts and pathogens at a community level. There is a tradition, initiated by Robert May, of using mathematical modelling techniques to understand these complex systems, and also have a strong representation in laboratory and field research. There is an emphasis, in most cases, on disease control as well as progress in basic biology.

Students and degree courses

The modular structure of the Oxford Biology course encourages a cross-disciplinary approach.[5] The options system in the second and third years allows students to study either a general background encompassing a comprehensive range of topics, or specialise in detailed aspects of animals, plants, cells or ecology. The fourth year of the course enables students to undertake an extended project under the supervision of an academic member of staff (which can be lab or field-based), in addition to advanced research skills training.

The Biology degree is taught jointly by the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology, with almost all teaching taking place in the University's Science Area. Additional resources include the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Botanic Garden, the Herbarium, the Arboretum, the John Krebs Field Station and Wytham Woods.


The following people of note are or have been associated with the Department:[1][6]

Tinbergen Building

Designed in 1965 by Sir Leslie Martin (who also designed the Royal Festival Hall) and opened in 1971, the Tinbergen Building was a large Modernist building housing over 1,600 staff and students. It was Oxford University’s largest building.

In February 2017, university officials announced that the Tinbergen Building would be closed for two years and all research and teaching activities of the Zoology Department would be moved elsewhere. This was due to the discovery of more asbestos than had been previously known; too much than could be removed during necessary maintenance with the building remaining occupied.[7][8]

The Department is currently primarily located in temporary accommodation at 11a Mansfield Road.[9]

The Tinbergen Building was demolished in spring 2020. It is to be replaced by a new £200m, 26,000 sq m “Life and Mind” building, scheduled to open in 2024.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Zoology, Dept of". Oxford University Pocket Diary. Oxford University Press. 2014–15. p. 175.
  2. ^ "Biology | University of Oxford". Retrieved 2020-03-02.
  3. ^ "Current Members of the Department". Retrieved 2020-03-02.
  4. ^ "Equality & Diversity". Retrieved 2020-03-02.
  5. ^ "Biology – Delivered by Zoology & Plant Sciences". UK: University of Oxford. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  6. ^ Bowen, Ursula (2015). "Memories of the Zoology Degree Course 1949–1952" (PDF). Biology News (4). University of Oxford. p. 6.
  7. ^ "Oxford University Zoology and experimental psychology buildings to close for two years due to asbestos". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  8. ^ "Asbestos find closes Oxford University building for two years". BBC News. BBC. 10 February 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  9. ^ "Contact". Retrieved 2020-03-02.

External links

This page was last edited on 21 August 2020, at 09:10
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