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Population and Community Ecology

Module titlePopulation and Community Ecology
Module codeBIO2407
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Xavier Harrison (Lecturer)

Dr Christopher Kaiser-Bunbury (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

It is often suggested that the natural state of populations of animals and plants is to be “in balance”. Any change is therefore often immediately seen as a cause for concern. However, you will see that natural populations typically show pronounced dynamics with periods of growth and decline without any human interference.

The lectures will cover the potential biological mechanisms behind these dynamics and the evidence that exists for them, covering theory and empirical evidence. From single species models we build up to communities of multiple interacting species to gain an understanding of the processes that determine the diversity and interconnectedness of ecological communities. In the practicals you will gain experience in using simple models to test fundamental ideas and lean how species-specific models can be used to inform ecological management decisions.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will build on the knowledge of ecology you developed during Stage 1 and will develop your expertise in population and community ecology. By developing an overview of these sub-disciplines, you will have a broad perspective on important issues in both fundamental and applied ecology, including conservation, pest management and the sustainable exploitation of resources. The module aims to allow you to develop a framework for ecological understanding based on system dynamics, how populations and communities change through time.

As well as getting to grips with fundamental theory, you will learn to use some practical tools for applying this theory in conservation management and agricultural pest management. Along with these specific skills, you will gain experience in more generic skills and build on your ecological knowledge, all of which will help you prepare for a carreer in ecology and conservation. During the module you will be presented with theory and empirical examples from the scientific literature and from the module leader’s own research programme. You will learn to solve fundamental and applied ecological problems using enquiry based on mathematical models, literature searches and experimentation.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Explain the biological mechanisms that cause the dynamic nature of natural populations and communities
  • 2. Illustrate the rationale behind using modelling approaches to uncover potential mechanisms driving population dynamics and how these can be applied to real-world problems
  • 3. Synthesise knowledge of macro-ecological patterns in diversity and distribution of populations, species and communities

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of the biosciences
  • 5. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. Identify and implement, with guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing specific research problems in biosciences
  • 7. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within the biosciences
  • 8. Describe and 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...

  • 9. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 11. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 12. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills, and apply own evaluation criteria
  • 13. Reflect effectively on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Lectures to include topics such as:

  • Population dynamics and density dependence
  • population structure across domains of life
  • intra- and inter-specific competition
  • migration and dispersal
  • predator-prey interactions
  • indirect effects and extinction dynamics
  • energy flow from individuals to communities (incl. ecological networks)
  • macroecological patterns of population and community structure

Practical sessions will reinforce topics covered in lectures, emphasising the application of simple models to ecological problems and the process of going from pattern observation to designing experimental tests of clearly formulated hypotheses.

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 teaching activities15Lectures – including material covering population dynamics and extinction risk, metapopulations, intraspecific competition, species interactions, energy flow, macroecology.
Scheduled learning and teaching activities9Laboratory practicals – covering material including modelling population dynamics, metapopulations and project proposals.
Guided independent study126Additional reading and research for the essay examination and write-up of practicals.


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the module1-13Oral
Practical 1 test questionnaire10 multiple choice as preparation for in-class test1-2, 4, 6-7, 11Correct answers
Group presentation in practical 310 minutes1, 3-5, 7-10Oral in lectures

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 601500 words1-5, 8-10Written
Practical 1 questionnaire2020 multiple choice questions completed during practical (3 hours)1-2, 4, 6-7, 11Correct answers and oral feedback session
Practical 2 questionnaire2020 multiple choice questions completed during practical (3 hours)1-2, 4, 6-7, 11Correct answers and oral feedback session


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay Essay 1-5, 8-10August assessment period
Practical 1 questionnaireShort answer questionnaire1-2, 4, 6-7, 11August assessment period
Practical 2 questionnaireShort answer questionnaire1-2, 4, 6-7, 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 sit 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

  • Begon, Townsend and Harper (2005) Ecology: 4th Edition. Blackwell Science
  • Morin (2011) Community Ecology: 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Population dynamics, population management, dispersal, extinction risk, meta-populations, species interactions, community structure, food webs, modelling

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO1408 Introduction to Ecology and Conservation

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date