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Living in Groups

Module titleLiving in Groups
Module codeBIO3400
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Sarah Hodge (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

When animals live in groups we see some of the most remarkable behaviours in the animal kingdom. From the highly coordinated movements of shoaling fish, to the extreme morphological adaptations seen in some social insects, animal societies are truly spectacular. This module will explore the different social systems that exist in the animal kingdom and consider how these societies may have evolved at both a behavioural and genomic level. We will begin by discussing the benefits of living in groups, and how these might offset the potential costs of increased competition for resources and increased disease transmission. We will then consider how ecological and life history factors might influence the evolution of group living, and explore the factors that determine how large a social group should be, and which individuals it should contain. We will also consider how coordination is achieved given that individuals within groups often have different needs i.e. how do they decide where to forage? Are there leaders, or do individuals reach a consensus by voting? Do some individuals secure a greater share of resources and if so, how is conflict within animal groups resolved? Finally, we will consider how an understanding of the way animal societies function may help humans address current social, economic and environmental problems.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to further your understanding of animal societies, with a particular focus on how these remarkable societies evolved. We will look in detail at why animals might benefit from living in groups, and what governs the size and composition of societies. We will also focus on how ecological conditions might influence the way that these societies evolved.

To achieve this, you will read and evaluate published research on the evolution of animal societies and participate in discussions about recent developments in this field. This module will provide valuable experience of evaluating and reviewing cutting edge research, allowing you to develop analytical, communication and critical thinking skills that will be essential to a range of careers in the biological sciences. The module content is updated every year to explore topical research areas.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe in detail the ecology and evolution of group living animals
  • 2. Discuss the role of environmental constraints in shaping animal societies
  • 3. Appraise critically new ideas and controversial theories within social evolution
  • 4. Explain concisely how our understanding of group living animals has changed over time

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

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

  • 10. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 11. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 12. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 13. 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
  • 14. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 15. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

This module will review the evolution of group living animals through a combination of lectures and class discussions. Lectures will consider the different types of social system in the animal kingdom, from species that just live together for the purposes of reproduction, to species where individuals are unable to survive alone. They will also explore how these societies may have evolved, focussing in particular on how ecological conditions might influence the costs and benefits of living in groups of different sizes as well as how we understand social evolution at a genomic level. Much of the learning for this module will be through 2-hour discussion seminars, in which recent research on the subject will be discussed and evaluated.

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 activities18Lectures and discussion seminars
Guided independent study132Additional 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 discussionsOngoing throughout the module1-8, 10-14Oral
Contribution to class discussionDiscussion seminarAllOral

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 words1-13Written on request
Review article401500 words1-13Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay 1-13August assessment period
Review articleReview article1-13August 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 submit a further assessment. 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

  • Davies, Krebs and West (2012) An introduction to behaviour ecology, Fourth Edition.
  • Krause and Ruxton (2002) Living in Groups.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Evolution, sociality, ecology, behaviour, cooperation, conflict, group-living, optimal group size

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date