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Human-Wildlife Coexistence in Costa Rica Field Course

Module titleHuman-Wildlife Coexistence in Costa Rica Field Course
Module codeBIO3438
Academic year2021/2
Module staff

Dr Jason Chapman (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity of any country in the world and is renowned for its highly progressive conservation and environmental policies with over 27% of its landmass within dedicated protected areas. A typical Costa Rica field course will introduce you to a range of tropical forest habitats including humid, pre-montane Atlantic slope forests (i.e. La Selva); high-altitude cloud forests of the central mountains (i.e. Monteverde); and the lowland tropical forests of the Pacific coastal region (i.e. Osa Peninsula). Central to the field course will be your deep engagement in these ecosystems, and exposure to challenges which must be overcome when balancing the needs of human society and wildlife conservation, in order to gain an understanding of tropical biodiversity and how to conserve it in a sustainable manner. You will gain first-hand experience of the methods used to study the flora and fauna in such challenging environments through a series of practical sessions, discussions and seminars from a variety of personnel including faculty, professional researchers, local experts, stakeholders and prominent experts from in-country conservation NGOs. You will then have the opportunity to implement all you have learned and conduct your own group research projects on an aspect of ecology or animal behaviour allowing you to acquire some of the essential field skills and experience needed to help you pursue a career in tropical conservation and ecology.

To address the climate emergency and potential impact of this module our partner organisation ensures that through specific local carbon offsetting in Monteverde this field course will be carbon neutral. We aim to provide vegetarian/vegan food and avoiding mammalian protein when subsistence is provided via the course organisers, use low emission buses for transport wherever possible for internal travel, and encourage students to consider how they will manage their carbon impact over-and-above carbon offsetting. Students will also be encouraged to avoid single use plastics and other avoidable impacts on the local environment and engage in sustainable practices throughout. As part of the course we encourage students to think about their carbon footprint more widely, and to consider a plant-based diet if they are not already vegetarian/vegan. Drinking water is provided and we encourage students to avoid all single-used plastics throughout the module.

Due to the fact that this is a field-based unit in difficult environments it may present a challenge for students with impaired physical abilities or medical conditions. Such students wishing to choose this module should seek advice from the module co-ordinator.

When participating in field courses, you will be required to cover any visa costs and, if necessary, purchase relevant immunisations. You will also need to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, e.g. walking boots, rucksack, binoculars. Details of specialist equipment, vaccinations and visas that you must supply at your own expense are provided at

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will develop your scientific knowledge and understanding of tropical forest ecology, animal behaviour, human-wildlife coexistence and conservation, in a region of high biodiversity and endemism, while based in a country with one of the most proactive environmental legislations, but one which is also under pressure from a growing human population with increasing demand for limited resources. Some of the principal topics we shall cover include:

• Introduction to tropical forest ecology and the complexity of conservation issues, particularly issues surrounding human-wildlife coexistence and dealing with human-wildlife conflict outside of protected areas;
• Observation, data collection, discussion sessions and data synthesis based on a range of activities conducted in the rainforest and at a coastal marine reserve;

• Group research projects on an aspect of either ecology, behaviour or conservation of organisms within tropical rainforest / cloud forest;
• Exposure to, and discussion of, the pros and cons of eco-tourism as a way to protect biodiversity;
• Acquiring skills and experience required to pursue a career in tropical conservation.

The skills you gain from fieldwork, teamwork, working with unfamiliar biodiversity, and working around the clock, will all stand you in good stead for careers in the environmental sector by developing or enhancing 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);
• Presentation skills and audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats).

This module will involve elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as work on animal migration, movement ecology, insect behaviour and population dynamics (Chapman), social biology, conservation, and human-wildlife coexistence and conflict. Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the mini research projects and sourcing material for factsheets and subsequent discussion.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Outline the environmental factors that determine the variation in habitat, species distributions and endemism rates in Costa Rica
  • 2. Explain how to approach studying the diversity of life in one of the most biodiverse regions on earth
  • 3. Compare and contrast the various strategic conservation efforts that have been undertaken at a national and local scale to maximise natural habitat and conserve as much biodiversity as possible, while allowing co-existence with huge human populations
  • 4. Understand general patterns of variation in tropical forest type and discuss the various explanations that exist for these patterns and the impact that they have on the surrounding environment
  • 5. Explain the potential importance of understanding animal behaviour and cognition in designing and implementing effective conservation strategies

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

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

  • 1. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 2. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 3. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 4. 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
  • 5. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 6. 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

There will be three preparatory lectures in terms 1 and 2, and you will produce a 2-page factsheet on a topic relevant to the field course learning outcomes ahead of the field course.

The field course will take place in April and will be based at three main locations, as follows:

• La Selva, (lowland Caribbean slope forest)
• Monteverde(Cloud, Atlantic and Pacific slope forests)
• Osa Peninsula, (lowland Pacific slope forest)

The course will begin at La Selva where you will get an introduction to some of the flora and fauna that inhabit pre-montane forests before relocation by coach to Monteverde where we will spend the bulk of our time exploring the vast array of forest types, including primary cloud forest. The field course will then end with a three day visit to the Osa Peninsula to consider the conservation issues surrounding marine mega-fauna and coastal habitats. At each of these locations you will be involved in scheduled activities e.g. lectures from staff, professional researchers and in-country conservation NGO personnel, practical sessions on sampling methods and collecting behavioural observations, and discussion sessions on relevant topics. As part of your involvement in the module you will undertake a small group research project, under the guidance of academic staff, in order for you to implement all of you have learned.

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 teaching3Pre-field course lectures to prepare you academically and practically for the course
Scheduled learning and teaching100Field-based tutoring from members of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in biodiversity, behaviour, ecology, conservation and other biological topics
Scheduled learning and teaching9Discussions led by in-country conservation experts (researchers and NGO staff)
Guided independent study188Additional reading and research and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Project presentation during field course10 minutesAllOral
Seminars and discussionsContinuous assessment during the field courseAllOral

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
Pre-field course factsheet202 sides of A4 (size 12 font)1, 3-5, 8-14Feedback Sheet
Post-field course poster40Poster1-2, 4-11Feedback Sheet
Essay401500 words1-5, 8-11Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Pre-field course factsheetFactsheet1, 3-5, 8-14August assessment period
Post-field course posterPost-field course poster1-2, 4-11August assessment period
EssayEssay1-5, 8-11August 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 submit a further assessment. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

• Tropical Rain Forest Ecology, Diversity and Conservation – Jaboury Ghazoul and Douglas Sheil.
• Tropical Ecology, Kricher, J. Princeton University Press. ISBN-13: 9780691115139
• Costa Rican Natural History Janzen, D.H. University of Chicago Press. ISBN: 0226393348
• Monteverde: ecology and conservation of a tropical cloud forest. N.M. Nadkarni & N.T. Wheelwright
• Tourist guides to travelling in Costa Rica
• Field guides on any plant and animal group in Costa Rica

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE page

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Tropical forest, biodiversity, conservation, behaviour, identification, survey methods, ecology, biogeography, endemism, South Asia

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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