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Symbiosis in Marine Systems

Module titleSymbiosis in Marine Systems
Module codeBIO3409
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Chris Lowe (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

In this module we will examine the diversity, ecological relevance, and evolutionary origins of symbiotic associations within marine systems. We will begin by exploring the diversity of organisms that form symbioses and the range of ecological processes that are impacted by such associations. The module will then focus on endosymbioses (in which symbionts reside within hosts) and consider the profound role that such associations have played in the origins and diversity of eukaryotic life. We will explore the critical ecological role played by a broad range of photosymbioses (e.g. those occurring between invertebrates, such as corals, and their algal symbionts), examine the physiological adaptations that underpin such interactions, and consider how stable symbioses form despite potential antagonism between hosts and symbionts. We will complete the module by discussing the impacts of environmental variation and persistent climate change on symbiotic associations and examine how modern ecological and evolutionary theories allow us to predict the responses of symbioses to contemporary patterns of environmental change.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aims of this module are to introduce you to the diversity of symbioses that occur in the marine environment, to develop your understanding of how symbioses have influenced the evolution of complex life, and to examine the important ecological role of symbioses in marine ecosystems. The scope of the module will be broad and interdisciplinary, drawing on evolutionary biology, marine ecology and cellular physiology. Classes will be primarily lecture-based, but will involve extensive discussions. In addition, a range of other teaching methods will be used, including student-led workshops and detailed consideration of primary literature. This module is relevant to those interested in further study or vocation in marine ecology, coral reef conservation, and evolutionary biology.

The skills you gain from lectures and seminars will develop or enhance your employability. Transferable skills to other sectors include:

  • problem solving (linking theory to practice, responding to novel and unfamiliar problems, data handling),
  • time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group),
  • collaboration (taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work),
  • self and peer review (taking responsibility for own learning, using feedback from multiple sources) and
  • audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats).

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Explain the role of symbiosis in the evolution of complex life
  • 2. Describe in detail the evolutionary theories that underpin our understanding of symbiosis formation
  • 3. Discuss the diversity of symbiotic associations, and their ecological roles, in marine environments
  • 4. Evaluate the ecological and evolutionary impacts of environmental change on the dominant symbioses in marine habitats

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 5. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 6. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 7. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 8. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 9. 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...

  • 10. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 11. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 12. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with limited guidance
  • 13. 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
  • 14. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 15. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will examine the diversity, ecological relevance, and evolutionary origins of symbiotic associations within marine systems. Drawing upon a wide body of research it will examine evolutionary theories that underpin our understanding of symbiosis formation and place the diversity of symbiotic associations and their ecological roles in marine environment. The module will examine future directions for research in this field.

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 teaching15Lectures covering all the material outlined above
Scheduled learning and teaching2Discussion leading to opinion piece
Guided independent study133Additional reading, research and preparation for assignments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answers during class and contribution to class discussionOngoing throughout 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 hour1-12Written feedback on request
Opinion piece/topical review401500 words1-12Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examination1-12August assessment period
Opinion piece/topical reviewOpinion piece/topical review1-12August 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

  • Levinton JS (2010) Marine Biology: International Edition: Function, Biodiversity, Ecology. OUP. ISBN-10: 0199766614

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Evolution, physiology, climate change, photo-symbiosis, marine ecology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date