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Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology: Frontiers and Approaches

Module titleEvolutionary and Behavioural Ecology: Frontiers and Approaches
Module codeBIOM4046
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Andrew Young (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The main aims of this module are to provide you with an understanding of key areas of evolutionary and behavioural ecology, to highlight and explore the current frontiers of the field, and to leave you familiar with the diversity of approaches that are used to advance our understanding (see details below). The module builds on the internationally renowned breadth and depth of cutting-edge evolutionary and behavioural ecology research being conducted at our Penryn Campus, and is delivered by a team of researchers working at the cutting edge of each of the focal disciplines. The module will provide you with knowledge of key outstanding problems in evolutionary and behavioural ecology, the ability to critically assess current scientific literature, and a familiarity with the array of methodologies needed to advance the field. It will also equip you with the skills to enable you to plan and execute independent research. This module aims to prepare you for a future research-oriented career.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module deals with the frontiers and approaches of modern Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology and will prepare you to be able to critically evaluate current research in the field and to plan your own research programme. The module aims to provide a synthetic understanding of the scientific processes in general, but in particular to provide an in-depth theoretical basis underpinning evolutionary and behavioural ecology. Our attention to the frontiers of evolutionary and behavioural ecological research spans the evolution of cooperative behaviour, social relationships, sexual selection, genetic conflict, host-pathogen coevolution and parental effects. Our attention to leading edge approaches in evolutionary and behavioural ecology spans quantifying behaviour, social network analysis, mathematical modelling of evolutionary theory, genetic sequences and sequence analysis, phylogenetic comparative analysis and evolutionary quantitative genetic analysis. You will first be introduced to these topics and methods and then skilled in how they relate to research at the frontiers of our current understanding in evolutionary and behavioural ecology.

This module will ensure that you will have the appropriate understanding of the theoretical and practical principles underlying 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 across the field, which will greatly facilitate the planning and execution of your independent research project. The module will also equip you very well for a future research-oriented career.

Learning will be structured into week-long blocks each focussing on a different key topic and associated approaches (see below), and will be supported by interactive lectures, active participation in discussion groups and practical activities, as well as independent study.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe, fully and systematically, key concepts and approaches in 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 (both in writing and orally) based on their independent and critical assessment of the discipline
  • 5. Solve practical and theoretical problems in evolutionary biology
  • 6. Critically assess scientific literature

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

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

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Lectures and group discussion

The module will include lectures and group discussions on the frontiers of our knowledge in key fields in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology. Topics may change, but will typically include the following:

  • The Evolutionary Process
  • The Evolution of Cooperative Behaviour
  • Sexual Selection & Mating Systems
  • Life history evolution
  • Social Relationships, Cognition & Culture
  • Host-Pathogen Coevolution
  • Emerging Infectious Disease
  • Maternal and Paternal Effects
  • The Evolution and Development of Personality
  • Studying Evolution in Action

Practical activities

The module will also include a strong practical component, focussed on key approaches in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology. Topics may change, but will typically include the following:

  • Quantifying Animal Behaviour
  • Mathematical Modelling of Evolutionary Theory
  • Phylogenetic Comparative Methods
  • Social Network Analysis
  • Genetic Sequencing
  • Utilising Sequence Data
  • Experimental Evolution
  • Evolutionary Quantitative Genetic Analysis

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 Teaching20Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching45Interactive Discussion & Practical Sessions
Guided Independent Study235Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Discussion during classesOngoing 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 in a Nature News & Views Format33Up to 1500 wordsAllWritten
Grant Application33Up to 1500 wordsAllWritten
Research Report34Up to 1500 wordsAllWritten


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay in a Nature News & Views FormatEssay in a Nature News & Views FormatAllDuring an appropriate specified time period before the end of July
Grant ApplicationGrant ApplicationAllDuring an appropriate specified time period before the end of July
Writing a Research PaperWriting a Research PaperAllDuring 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 redo the relevant assessment. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 50%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

The module will draw extensively on primary published research papers in peer-reviewed journals.

The following would serve as excellent background reading to support the learning in key areas…

  • Davies, N.B., Krebs, J.R. and West, S.A. An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology (4th ed), Blackwells, 2012.
  • Ridley, M. Evolution (3rd ed), Blackwells, 2003

Module has an active ELE page

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date