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Field and Laboratory Techniques

Module titleField and Laboratory Techniques
Module codeBIO1421
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Ilya Maclean (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

There is an extraordinary wealth of wildlife everywhere you look. This module introduces you to the diverse ways that we as scientists can gather information from the world around us. From field identification and sampling of specimens to laboratory analysis.

Field identification and recording is given a ‘local’ perspective exposing you to the broad taxonomic spectrum of animals, plants, fungi, etc. that occur in Cornwall and using a variety of media and approaches to record and identify organisms. In the field, you will be trained to find, identify and survey wildlife. Conceptual themes within the module include the description and recording of species’ characteristics, the monitoring of wildlife populations, the seasonal events that define UK wildlife phenology, and the local, national and international groups and policies that guide wildlife conservation.

In the laboratory you will see how laboratory techniques have transformed the study of Conservation Biology and Ecology, Zoology, Animal Behaviour and Evolutionary Biology over the last few decades. These techniques have shaped and revolutionised our understanding of the natural world expanding our understanding far beyond what would have been possible by previous generations of scientist.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The field course element of this module is built around a series of visits to a range of habitats in Cornwall. The module will familiarise you with the local fauna and flora, covering its biodiversity and introducing ecology and conservation biology. You will acquire skills in field identification and wildlife survey, an understanding of taxonomy and phylogeny and an appreciation of ecological and conservation issues.

The laboratory element of this module aims to give you an understanding of the principles behind some of the most important laboratory techniques used in modern laboratories today including: microscopy, spectroscopy, chromatography, electrophoresis, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and sequencing. The techniques covered will be those that you will be likely to encounter in your careers and will include techniques widely employed by the University’s research groups.

The combination of field and laboratory techniques covered in this module will leave you with a wealth of skills and methodologies for exploring fully the world around you. Good field and laboratory skills among the most sought-after in the workplace. The field trips, laboratory sessions and coursework will give you an opportunity to develop these skills. For example, you will acquire training in the use of dichotomous keys for identifying organisms and will have opportunity to apply these techniques in the field.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Recognise major groups of plants and animals in the UK; appropriate levels of identifications will vary with taxon, but will range from phylum to sub-species
  • 2. Describe and document, using various media, the fundamentals of most organism types and demonstrating familiarity, via field experience, with their ecology, habitats and conservation status
  • 3. Outline the main field survey techniques
  • 4. Explain optimal routes for identifying organisms to appropriate levels for different applications
  • 5. Outline the main laboratory techniques
  • 6. Explain the principles behind how laboratory techniques work
  • 7. Discuss the limitations of laboratory techniques
  • 8. Describe the basic principles of conservation and ecology, including the provisional nature of taxonomy and phylogeny

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 9. Describe essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 10. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples into written work
  • 11. Identify and implement, with some guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing a specific research problem in biosciences
  • 12. With guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 13. Describe and begin to evaluate 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...

  • 14. Develop, with guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound conclusions
  • 15. Communicate ideas, principles and theories using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 16. Collect and interpret appropriate data and undertake straightforward research tasks with guidance
  • 17. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills identified by others
  • 18. Reflect on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

You will follow the techniques used from field species identification through to laboratory analysis.

Field species identification will focus on organisms in natural habitats. You will learn about the main groups of plants and animals, mainly from first-hand experience of living organisms. As far as possible, knowledge of plants and animals will be from field trips to the SW peninsula.

Laboratory analysis will be covered in a series of lectures each focusing on a particular family of techniques such as: microscopy techniques, spectroscopy techniques, chromatography techniques, immunological techniques; electrophoresis, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and other genetic techniques.

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 learning18Field work (3 excursions) – including visits to a range of habitats
Scheduled teaching and learning10Laboratory-based lectures
Scheduled teaching and learning12Lecture theatre-based lectures
Scheduled teaching and learning5Online forums
Guided independent study52.5Exam revision and background reading
Guided independent study52.5Notebook preparation, research and additional reading for compiling a collection including data on identity, taxonomy, phylogeny, ecology and conservation biology, and status for each group


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

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
Field notebook assignments403 assignments in one notebook1-7Written
MCQ examination6040 questions, 1 hour1 hour1-7Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Field notebook assignmentsNot applicableNot applicableNot applicable
MCQ examinationMCQ examination1-7August 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 field notebook assignments are not deferrable because of their practical nature and the requirement to work in a group. 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

  • L Svensson, K Mullarney, D Zetterstrom and P J Grant 2010 Collins Bird Guide 2nd edition, Harper Collins (plus other field guides); AIDGAP identification guides
  • Practical Skills in Biology, 4th edition (2007) Ed. Allan Jones, Rob Reed and Jonathan Weyers. Pearson Education Limited. ISBN 978-0-13-175509-3.
  • Current Protocols Essential Laboratory Technques (2008). Ed. Sean Gallagher and Emily Wiley. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-08993-4 (very detailed text – copies available in the library).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Ecology, evolution, animal behavior, conservation biology and ecology, laboratory techniques, protein analysis, DNA sequencing, polymerase chain reaction, microscopy, immunological methods, spectrophotometry, chromatography, electrophoresis, microbial diversity, transfection

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date