Comparative animal physiologists compare and contrast the physiological systems of different animal species, or of a single species, under difference environmental conditions. This branch of physiology is an experimental science motivated by an interest in understanding how physiological systems allow animals to adapt to their individual and ever-changing environments. We seek to answer questions such as: How do aquatic mammals dive for greater than 30 minutes on a single breath of air? Do birds sleep during flight while they are migrating? How do the heart and brain of Arctic and Antarctic fish function at sub-zero temperatures? How do turtles and frogs survive at the bottom of ice covered lakes and ponds during winter? By adapting a systems-level approach, from molecules to organisms, comparative animal physiologists seek to understand the emergent properties that arise when physiological components operate as a whole; properties that cannot be predicted from knowledge of the individual components alone.
In the animal physiology program, students will explore a broad array of species living in diverse habitats to emphasize the commonality and differences amongst species. In the first and second years of the program, students take courses that provide them with a solid foundation in the basic sciences, animal physiology, and cell and molecular biology. In the upper years, the Department of Cell and Systems Biology offers a range of advanced lecture, seminar, and laboratory courses designed to provide students with an in depth understanding of the breadth of animal physiology. These offerings include neurophysiology, respiratory physiology, endocrinology, sleep physiology and comparative cellular physiology. In the last year of study, students are encouraged to apply to conduct independent research projects in the laboratories of physiologists within the Department of Cell and Systems Biology. The diverse course offerings in the Animal Physiology program allow students to customize their educational experience to match their personal interests.