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The biology of survival

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This innovative module covers the biology and diversity of whole organisms from an evolutionary perspective. It explores the interactions between diverse examples of cooperating or competing organisms, including predators and prey, and their changing environments. It uses various plants, animals and fungi to illustrate how adaptation in the physiology and behaviour of organisms contributes to survival. You’ll undertake at-home and onscreen interactive experiments to generate and analyse your own unique data sets. Through this study and investigation, you’ll develop valuable practical and analytical skills.

What you will study

This module covers various aspects of the physiology, behaviour, ecology and evolution of whole organisms using a wide range of representative examples of plants, animals and fungi. The overarching theme of the module and the context within which all the teaching materials are presented is adaptation and natural selection. From this evolutionary viewpoint, both the unity and diversity of many organisms are explored in the introductory activities that include identifying local wildlife that you have observed, to investigating how butterflies adapt their camouflage to their changing surroundings. You will also be introduced to the module practicals that are presented in the Investigative Biology strand and how the data you collect will be used for your assessment tasks.

Topic 1 Interdependence: introduces the idea of interdependence and the module themes of Phylogeny, Coevolution, Communication and Energy flow. Most of the examples of interdependence used involve insects and plants, especially ants and acacias. You will also be introduced to the practical skills of testing biological hypotheses through experiments and statistical analysis.

Topic 2 Migration: introduces migration in animals, with special reference to birds, and also introduces the module themes of Movement, Selection and Homeostasis. The topic includes practical skills in the form of a hands-on experiment designed to develop your skills in experimental design and hypothesis testing.

Topic 3 Wood-wide web: focuses on the set of varied interactions that make up the wood-wide web, a relatively recent concept that has generated new ideas about how plant species interact. It also acquaints you with fungi, one of the major eukaryotic kingdoms, and the technique of using isotopes to understand biological systems. In terms of the module themes, this topic introduces Interactions, Energy transformations and Nutrient flux. You will learn important literacy skills including how to identify key publications to summarise information and cite and reference publications appropriately.

Topic 4 Reproductive behaviour: looks at reproduction and sexual selection, focussing on frogs and toads, and introduces the module themes of Growth, Communication, Selection and Phylogeny. Skills you will learn include conducting an onscreen experiment and collecting data, analysing and interpreting results, and using bibliography tools to compile a reference list.

Topic 5 Surviving with limited water: considers the role of water in terrestrial ecosystems and develops the module themes: Homeostasis, Growth and Energy transformations. Many of the examples given in this topic are plants from desert habitats, which have been used to emphasise more extreme adaptations. The topic also develops your practical skills in looking at tissue structure (via a digital microscope), as well as web searching and data analysis.

Topic 6 Predation: covers various aspects of predation, including ecological perspectives of interactions between predators and prey, the behaviour of predators and the evolution of specialist large cat predator groups. The topic develops the module themes of Interactions, Movement and Coevolution. The skills of report reading/writing and hypothesis formulation, along with analysing and interpreting correlations, are also covered.

Topic 7 Surviving the cold: explores many of the different ways in which a range of organisms adapt to cold environments. In doing so, it develops the module themes of Nutrient flux and then Energy flow and Energy transformations, focusing on respiration. The topic further develops your practical skills in developing and testing biological hypotheses through an online experiment, by devising and using data collection methods to gather results ready for analysis.

Topic 8 Crustacean behaviour: uses examples of marine invertebrates to apply the module themes of Communication and Phylogeny. The topic activities further develop your skills of data handling and analysis.

Topic 9 Selective breeding: focuses on the implications of artificial selection and captive breeding for survival, and uses mammalian examples of each to apply the module themes of Selection as well as Nutrient flux. The topic further develops your practical skills of designing data collection methods to use with films of elephant behaviour.

Topic 10 Sunshine and fresh air to cheese: This topic covers a number of integrated biological systems involving the conversion of light energy into the food product cheese, via the dairy cow and the cheese-making process. In doing so, the topic material applies the module themes of Homeostasis, Growth and Energy flow. It also refines your skills of performing calculations and using these to make comparisons.

Topic 11 Pollination: In the final topic of this module the rich variety of interactions between plants and flower visitors is explored and you will carry out your own investigations and write up a practical report. This topic applies the module themes of Interactions, Coevolution and Movement.

Investigative Biology: as you work your way through the module materials you will simultaneously be undertaking investigative biology with 5 practicals: Bird visual discrimination - prey selection; Plant stomata; Cold adaptation in laboratory rats; Observing Asian elephant behaviours: eating and defecating and Pollinators. Through these investigations you will also develop and practice your skills of reading scientific literature and writing up practical reports.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need appropriate knowledge of biology and basic mathematics obtained through:

  • OU level 1 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for S295?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:

What's included

This module does not have any printed material. All teaching material and supporting assets such as video, audio, computer interactive activities, Digital Literacy (stage 2) activities, links to other resources such as internal and external websites are embedded within the VLE texts of the module.

There are ebook downloadable versions of the Module guide, Introduction, 11 individual topics and Investigative Biology. As well as a glossary, assignments, specimen exam paper and answers, forums and other resources all provided via a dedicated website.

You’ll have access to the S295 module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

You will need

Ingredients to make dough (flour, water, 2 colours of food dye, preferably yellow and red), basic outdoor clothing and footwear for fieldwork and a Lab book.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Field/laboratory schools

This module has an optional residential field school.

The Field Studies Council runs the residential field school Pollination. This 3-day programme (at FSC Preston Montford in Shropshire) includes outdoor exercises and follow-up laboratory work.

The residential field school fee for 2023/24 was £325; you must also pay for your travel.

Instructions for booking will be on the module website.


The School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences offers optional laboratory schools in Milton Keynes at an additional cost. Laboratory schools are not part of this module but may be of interest if you wish to gain relevant hands-on laboratory experience.

Further information and instructions for booking are on the SS022 website.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S295 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

The biology of survival (S295) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2025.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)

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