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India Field Course

Module titleIndia Field Course
Module codeBIO3425
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Jason Chapman (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The Western Ghats region of southern India is one of the world’s “Top 25 Biodiversity Hotspots” and has also been designated by Birdlife International as an Endemic Bird Area. The region is home to numerous endemic species of plants, insects, amphibians (80% are endemics), and birds (about 20 species are endemic), but it faces severe conservation issues (at least 325 globally-threatened species are found here) as India is one of the two most heavily-populated countries in the world. The India field course will introduce you to two tropical forest types, which differ in their biodiversity and rates of endemism: (i) the South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests (we will visit this ecotype at the Cauvery River Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary); and (ii) the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests (Biligiriranga (BR) Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, and Nagarhole National Park, famous for its tigers, leopards, crocodiles and elephants).

You will gain first-hand experience of the methods used to study and conserve the flora and fauna in such challenging environments, where human pressure is extremely high, by contributing to surveys of biodiversity, taking part in discussion groups, and receiving seminars from a variety of personnel including University of Exeter staff, and colleagues from Indian research institutions and conservation organisations. During a 4/5 day stay in the BR Hills, you will conduct a short research project on an aspect of ecology or animal behaviour, allowing you to acquire some of the essential field skills and experience needed to help you pursue a career in tropical conservation and ecology.

Due to the fact that this is a field-based unit in difficult environments it may present a challenge for students with impaired physical abilities or medical conditions. Such students wishing to choose this module should seek advice from the module co-ordinator.

When participating in field courses, you will be required to cover any visa costs and, if necessary, purchase anti-malarial medication and relevant immunisations. You will also need to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, eg. boat boots (steel toe-capped), wetsuit/snorkelling equipment, walking boots, rucksack, mosquito net, sleeping bag, binoculars. You may incur additional costs dependent upon the specific demands of the research project chosen. Details of specialist equipment, vaccinations and visas that you must supply at your own expense are provided at

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will develop your scientific knowledge and understanding of tropical forest ecology, animal behaviour, and conservation, in a region of high biodiversity and endemism, but one which is also under extreme pressure from a huge and growing human population. Some of the principal topics we shall cover include:

  • Introduction to tropical forest ecology and the complexity of conservation issues;
  • Methods for observation, field surveying, and data collection in tropical forests;
  • Group research projects on an aspect of either ecology, behaviour or conservation of organisms living in the dry deciduous tropical forest type;
  • Exposure to, and discussion of, the pros and cons of eco-tourism as a way to protect biodiversity (by engaging in guided safaris in Nagarhole National Park);
  • Acquiring skills and experience required to pursue a career in tropical conservation.

The skills you gain from fieldwork, teamwork, working with unfamiliar biodiversity, and working around the clock, will all stand you in good stead for careers in the environmental sector by developing or enhancing your employability. Transferable skills to other sectors include:

  • Problem solving (linking theory to practice, responding to novel and unfamiliar problems, data handling);
  • Time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group);
  • Collaboration (taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work);
  • Self and peer review (taking responsibility for own learning, using feedback from multiple sources);
  • Presentation skills and audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats).

This module will involve elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as work on animal migration, movement ecology, insect behaviour and population dynamics (Chapman). Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the mini research projects and sourcing material for factsheets and subsequent discussion.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Outline the environmental factors that determine the variation in habitat and endemism rates in the Western Ghats / Deccan Plateau region of southern India
  • 2. Explain how to approach studying the diversity of life in one of the most biodiverse regions on earth
  • 3. Compare and contrast the various strategic conservation approaches which aim at allowing large, and potentially lethal, animals (e.g. tiger, leopard, marsh crocodile, Asian elephant, king cobra etc) to co-exist with huge human populations

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

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

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

There will be two preparatory lectures in term 1, and you will produce a 2-page factsheet on a topic relevant to the field course learning outcomes ahead of the field course.

The typical India field course will take place in early January, and will be based at three main locations (with additional sites visited more briefly):

After early-morning arrival at Bangalore Airport, we will be transported to Galibore Nature Camp ( in the Cauvery River Wildlife Sanctuary. Here you will be introduced to the flora and fauna of the South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests by guided walks and boat trips, where we shall expect to see specialised riverine fauna (e.g. marsh crocodiles and fish-eagle species) as well as more widespread species. Next we shall be transported to the the BR Hills (, where you will have the chance to explore the local habitats, take part in field surveys, and visit a tribal settlement and school to see first-hand the issues associated with people living within protected areas and alongside charismatic but potentially lethal mega-fauna. This area is at the junction of the Western and Eastern Ghats, and the number of endemics begins to rise. The field course will finish with 2/3 days at the Kabini River Lodge ( in Nagarhole National Park (, where you will have the opportunity to take part in boat and jeep safaris, and to see first-hand how eco-tourism is contributing to the protection of India’s wildlife.

At each of these locations you will be involved in scheduled activities e.g. lectures from staff, professional researchers and in-country conservation NGO personnel, practical sessions on sampling methods and collecting behavioural observations, and discussion sessions on relevant topics. As part of your involvement in the module you will undertake a small group research project, under the guidance of academic staff, in order for you to implement all of you have learned. On return to the UK you will individually produce a poster based on the results of the project. You will present your poster to staff in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation approximately three weeks after your return.

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 teaching2Pre-field course lectures to prepare you academically and practically for the course
Scheduled learning and teaching100Field-based tutoring from members of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in biodiversity, behaviour, ecology, conservation and other biological topics
Scheduled learning and teaching9Discussions led by in-country conservation experts (researchers and NGO staff)
Guided independent study189Additional reading and research and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during the field courseOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Seminars and discussionsContinuous assessment during the field courseAllOral

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
Pre-field course factsheet152 sides of A4 (size 12 font)1, 3-5, 8-14Feedback sheet
Project presentation during field course1510 minutes inc questions AllFeedback sheet
Post-field course poster30Poster 1-2, 4-11Feedback sheet
Essay examination401 hour1-5, 8-11Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Pre-field course factsheetPre-field course factsheet1, 3-5, 8-14August assessment period
Project presentation during field courseNot applicableNot applicableNot applicable
Post-field course posterPost-field course poster1-2, 4-11August assessment period
Essay examinationEssay examination1-5, 8-11August 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 project presentation is not deferrable because it takes place during the field course and the mark comprises both group and individual components. If you are not able to participate in the presentation during the field course, and you are successfully granted mitigation, you will be awarded the group component marks for your presentation and this mark will be scaled accordingly. 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 and/or re-submit a further factsheet and/or poster. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • The Ecology of Tropical East Asia (2nd Ed) – Richard Corlett
  • The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis – Prerna Singh Bindra
  • Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent – Pranay Lal
  • Road to Nowhere: Wildlife Conservation in India (Vol 1) – HS Pabla
  • Helm Field Guide to Birds of Southern India – Grimmett & Inskipp
  • Field Guide to Indian Mammals – Vivek Menon
  • A Naturalist’s Guide to the Butterflies of India – Peter Smetacek

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Tropical forest, biodiversity, conservation, behaviour, identification, survey methods, ecology, biogeography, endemism, South Asia

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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