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The Behavioural Ecology of Information Use

Module titleThe Behavioural Ecology of Information Use
Module codeBIO3128
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Sasha Dall (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

How do organisms do the right things? Adaptive behaviour relies upon accurate anticipation of ecological conditions; the better informed an individual, the better it can develop and adjust its behaviour to meet the demands of a variable world. In this module you will learn about the impact of ecological uncertainty on adaptation, and the means by which it can be reduced by gathering information. You will study how animals sense their worlds, learn about changing conditions, monitor each other and other species, the pros and cons of communicating with each other and the evolutionary consequences of such information use.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to increase understanding of ecology at the interface of evolutionary, physiological and behavioural aspects of the subject, focussed around information use by organisms in their natural habitats. You will develop a fuller understanding of the way natural and sexual selection can and does act to mould much of what we see in the natural world, from variation in individual information processing capabilities through to population-specific patterns of behaviour. This module will develop your ability to think critically, write concisely and articulate your ideas about complex phenomena in public.

Through attending the weekly seminars and completing the assessments, you will further develop the following academic and professional skills:

  • problem solving (linking theory to observations, developing your own ideas with confidence, showing entrepreneurial awareness, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems),
  • managing structure (identifying key demands of the task, setting clearly defined goals, responding flexibly to changing priorities),
  • time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group),
  • collaboration (respecting the views and values of others, taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work, maintaining group cohesiveness and purpose), and
  • audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the importance and relevance of your views, responding positively and effectively to questions).

The module content is updated every year to explore topical research areas, some of which are being carried out in the department, and some of which are of global relevance. You will learn about the tools required to study such problems, and explore how science can solve issues of importance to society.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain some key concepts in evolutionary biology, ecology and behavioural biology
  • 2. Outline current and/or controversial ideas at the forefront of the subject
  • 3. Think critically about ecological, evolutionary and behavioural biology ideas and principles

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 5. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 7. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 8. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 10. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 11. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 12. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 13. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will review animal information use in a wide range of contexts, emphasising that taking an explicitly informational approach necessitates an integrative approach to behavioural ecology. We will address a number of 'key topics' in a series of workshops. These may include, for example, learning, evolution of animal signals and communication, social information use, navigation and sensory ecology and the evolution of culture.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching10Lectures (10 x 1 hour)
Scheduled learning and teaching20Discussion sessions (10 x 2 hours)
Guided independent study120Additional reading and research in preparation for assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during the lectures and discussion sessionsOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay examination601 hour1-11Written feedback sheet
Review article401200 words2-10Written feedback sheet


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examination1-11August assessment period
Review articleReview article2-10August assessment period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Reading lists relevant to topics will be provided, this will use the primary literature rather than text books.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Animal behaviour, physiology, evolution, natural selection, sexual selection, information use

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date