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Approaches in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology

Module titleApproaches in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology
Module codeBIOM4018
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Abraham Kuijper (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module will introduce you to the methods used to carry out research in evolutionary and behavioural ecology, focussing specifically on commonly used techniques in mathematical modelling, experimental design, behavioural analyses, experimental evolution, phylogenetics, comparative analyses and genetics. In addition, the module will showcase the use of various techniques in ongoing research at our campus, equipping you with the necessary aptitude to carry out future scientific research. You will gain experience in assessing the pros and cons of various techniques and how they can be employed to address key questions in ecology and evolution.

This module is available to both Evolution and Behavioural Ecology and Conservation and Biodiversity Masters students. A basic understanding of mathematics, genetics, molecular biology and physiology is required.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module deals with the pros and cons of key methods and approaches in evolutionary and behavioural ecology and will familiarise you with modern technology and approaches to enable you to critically evaluate current techniques in the field. The module aims to provide a synthetic understanding of the scientific processes in general, but in particular about the pros and cons of different practical methods in evolutionary and behavioural ecology. The Approaches in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology module showcases the use of mathematical models, as well as the use of genetic, physiological and observational techniques in evolutionary and behavioural ecology. You will be introduced to these topics and skilled in how they relate to evolutionary research in general, and specifically to current issues in evolutionary and behavioural ecology.

This module will ensure that you will have the appropriate understanding of the practical principles underlying the study of evolutionary and behavioural ecology research, in particular those that are relevant to your research project. The main aim of this module is to provide you with the ability to critically assess current scientific literature and methodologies and to facilitate the planning and execution of your independent research project. This will equip you for a future research-oriented career.

Learning will be supported by interactive lectures, active participation in discussion groups, together with practical and independent study.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe, systematically and fully, key methodsin evolutionary and behavioural ecology
  • 2. Critically and independently assess the research area
  • 3. Conduct a literature review of a current research topic in the research areas covered

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Discuss ideas and construct coherent arguments based on their independent and critical assessment of the discipline
  • 5. Solve practical problems in evolutionary biology
  • 6. Critically assess scientific literature
  • 7. Describe and evaluate multiple approaches to tackle a research question

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 8. Professionally present ideas and results in writing
  • 9. Prioritise, generate, and summarise data relevant to the testing of rational hypotheses
  • 10. Present written reports in a clear, concise, and logical manner
  • 11. Think critically, and critically appraise and logically solve problems

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Mathematical models. This will cover examples of how models are used to understand the evolution of behaviour, the different modelling strategies in behavioural ecology (evolutionary game theory, quantitative genetics, population genetics, computer simulations), the advantages and disadvantages of each, and the rationale and value of modelling.
  • Experimental design. This will cover pros and cons of different experimental designs and pitfalls to avoid
  • Behavioural analyses. This will cover hands-on examples of different techniques to measure behaviour in animals.
  • Phylogenetic analyses. We showcase how phylogenetics and comparative analyses can be used to make inferences in evolutionary biology.
  • Sequencing techniques. We highlight how the latest developments in high throughput sequencing and analyses of sequence data (bioinformatics) help us understand evolutionary processes at the genetic level.
  • Making a research plan. Learn to integrate multiple techniques to test hypotheses in ecology and evolution
  • Poster assessment. Learn to effectively use a poster to showcase a research method.

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 teaching and learning activities9Lectures
Scheduled teaching and learning activities4Group-led discussion of topics/papers
Scheduled teaching and learning activities8Practical sessions – you will gain practical experience in designing a research programme using the approaches you have learnt about in the module
Scheduled teaching and learning2Poster session
Guided independent study127Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group discussion and subsequent presentation3 hours1-11Oral
Article discussionsAllOral

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
Poster presentation501xA2 poster, <500 words1-6, 9-11Written and oral
Factsheet501200 words5-6, 9-11Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Poster presentationPoster presentation1-6, 9-11During an appropriate specified time period before the end of July
FactsheetFactsheet5-6, 9-11During an appropriate specified time period before the end of July

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 50%) you will be required to resubmit the original assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Ruxton, G.D. and Colegrave, N. Experimental design for the Life Sciences (4th ed). Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Hickman C., Keen S., Larson A., Eisenhour D., l’Anson H., Roberts L. Integrated Principles of Zoology (16th ed). McGraw & Hill Education, 2013.
  • Beebee, T. and Rowe, G. An Introduction to Molecular Ecology (3rd ed). Oxford University Press, 2017.

Additional reading:

  • Freeland, J. R., Kirk, H. and Peterson, S. D. Molecular Ecology (2nd ed). Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
  • McElreath, R and Boyd, R. Mathematical Models of Social Evolution: a Guide for the Perplexed. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Evolutionary ecology, behavioural ecology, theoretical models, game theory, evolution, experimental evolution, experimental design, behavioural analysis, phylogenetics, sequencing techniques

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date