Skip to main content


Mating Systems Biology

Module titleMating Systems Biology
Module codeBIO3130
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Professor Nina Wedell (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The evolution of animal mating systems and alternative mating strategies lies at the heart of studies of sexual selection. In this module we will discuss how factors such as population density, operational sex ratio, and habitat quality can directly influence animal mating patterns. You will examine the concept of the opportunity for sexual selection, why it can be restricted to one sex while opposed in the other, and why it is a powerful evolutionary force. The focus will be on how ecological and historical processes that directly influence the spatial and temporal distribution of receptive females determine the evolution of animal reproductive strategies.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to further your understanding about animal mating systems and sexual selection by discussing concepts of reproductive behaviour and its consequences in an evolutionary context. The module will focus on what factor determines the mating system of a species and in turn what consequences variation in mating tactics and behaviour will have for sexual selection. To achieve this you will read primary literature on mating systems biology and sexual selection, present the findings of a primary scientific paper, and lead a discussion based on the presented results, in addition to participating in the general discussion of recent research on this topic. This will allow you to learn how to understand, synthesise and communicate cutting edge research to a wider audience. Furthermore, during the module you will take part in and lead group discussions and critically evaluate recent scientific literature, all of which are skills key to future employability.

The module will develop transferrable analytical and research skills. Through attending the weekly lectures, discussions and completing the assessments, you will further develop the following academic and professional skills that will be transferable to future employment:

  • problem solving (linking theory to practice, developing your own ideas with confidence, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems)
  • managing structure (identifying key demands of the task, setting clearly defined goals, responding flexibly to changing priorities)
  • time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group)
  • audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the importance and relevance of your views, responding positively and effectively to questions).

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as work on sexual selection, reproductive strategies, and reproductive ecology. Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the reading and presentation of primary research papers.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Illustrate the diversity of mating systems throughout the animal kingdom
  • 2. Explain the role of population size and operational sex ratio on male and female reproductive strategies in a population
  • 3. Understand the role of promiscuity in shaping evolution of male and female reproductive traits and behaviours
  • 4. Evaluate the importance of ecological and historical factors in favouring a particular mating system
  • 5. Discuss the role of environmental constraints and how this directly influences individualsÂ’ mating patterns
  • 6. Describe in detail animal reproduction, mating systems and evolution

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 7. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 8. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 9. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 10. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 11. 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...

  • 12. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 13. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 14. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 15. 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
  • 16. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will briefly review the diversity of animal mating systems before discussing specific examples illustrating the reasons for and limitations on promiscuity, male and female reproductive behaviours and the ecological constraints associated with a particular mating system. Examples will be chosen to illustrate various topics, including, for example, the impact of degree of polyandry on genetic diversity and gene flow, the relative importance of population size and operational sex ratio on mating patterns, and the impact of social interactions and relatedness on male and female reproductive strategies.

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 activities15Seminars/lectures – covering material including sexual selection, mating systems, female multiple mating, sperm competition and alternative mating tactics.
Guided independent study135Additional reading, research 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

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 examination601 hour1-14Written
Presentation2010 minutes2-14Written
Discussion sheet handout201 page2-14Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examinationAllAugust assessment period
PresentationPowerPoint presentation2-14August assessment period
Discussion sheet handoutHandout based on PowerPoint presentation2-14August 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 write 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

  • Primary research papers

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Mating systems, sexual selection, sex ratio, ecology, evolution and population size

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date