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Tropical Biodiversity and Conservation: Costa Rica Field Course

Module titleTropical Biodiversity and Conservation: Costa Rica Field Course
Module codeBIO3430
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Andrew McGowan (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity of any country in the world and is renowned for its highly progressive conservation and environmental policies with over 27% of its landmass within dedicated protected areas. A typical Costa Rica field course will introduce you to a range of tropical forest habitats from the humid and pre-montane forests (i.e. La Selva) to the Cloud, Atlantic and Pacific slope forests (i.e. Monteverde) before culminating in a visit to the Pacific coastal region (i.e Osa Peninsula). Central to the field course will be your deep engagement in these ecosystems to gain an understanding of tropical biodiversity and how to conserve it. You will gain first-hand experience of the methods used to study the flora and fauna in such challenging environments through a series of practical sessions, discussions and seminars from a variety of personnel including faculty, professional researchers, local experts, stakeholders and prominent experts from in-country conservation NGOs. You will then have the opportunity to implement all you have learned and conduct your own group research projects 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. Anyone choosing this module will need a reasonable level of fitness in order to be able to undertake the expedition.


To address the climate emergency and potential impact of this module our partner organisation ensures that through specific local carbon offsetting in Monteverde this field course will be carbon neutral. We aim to provide vegetarian/vegan food and avoiding mammalian protein when subsistence is provided via the course organisers, use low emission buses for transport wherever possible for internal travel, and encourage students to consider how they will manage their carbon impact over-and-above carbon offsetting. Students will also be encouraged to avoid single use plastics and other avoidable impacts on the local environment and engage in sustainable practices throughout.

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. walking boots, rucksack, mosquito net, sleeping bag, binoculars. 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 aims to develop your scientific knowledge and understanding within three main areas - ecology, behaviour and conservation, while based in a country with one of the most proactive environmental legislations. We will cover:

  • Introduction to a range of tropical rainforest habitats and the complexity of conservation issues.
  • Observation, data collection, discussion sessions and data synthesis based on a range of activities conducted in the rainforest and at a coastal marine reserve.
  • Group research projects on an aspect of either biodiversity, behaviour or conservation within the rainforest.
  • Communicating science to a wide audience.
  • 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).

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as work on sociality in birds and mammals (McGowan & Young), endocrinology and signalling (Young) and the reproductive biology and conservation of sea turtles (McGowan). 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 rainforest types across small spatial scales in Costa Rica
  • 2. Explain how to approach studying the diversity of animal life in one of the most biodiverse regions on earth
  • 3. Compare and contrast the various strategic conservation approaches that have been undertaken at a national scale approaches to maximise natural habitat and conserve as much biodiversity as possible

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

A preparatory lecture in term 1.

A typical field course will take place in early January and will be based at two or three main locations. An example is as follows:

  • La Selva, (lowland Caribbean slope forest)
  • Monteverde(Cloud, Atlantic and Pacific slope forests)
  • Osa Peninsula, (lowland Pacific slope forest)

The course will begin at La Selva where you will get an introduction to some of the flora and fauna that inhabit pre-montane forests before relocation by coach to Monteverde where we will spend the bulk of our time exploring the vast array of forest types, including primary cloud forest. The field course will then end with a three day visit to the Osa Peninsula to consider the conservation issues surrounding marine mega-fauna and coastal habitats. 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 posters to your colleagues in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation approximately 2-3 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 Teaching8Discussions led by in-country conservation experts (researchers and NGO staff)
Guided Independent Study190Additional 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
Project presentation during field course10 minutes inc questionsAllFeedback sheet

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 factsheet202 sides of A4 (Size 12 font)1, 3-5, 8-14Feedback sheet
Post-field course poster40Poster1-2, 4-11Feedback sheet
End of module Essay401500-2000 words1-5, 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
Post-field course posterPost-field course poster1-2, 4-11August assessment period
EssayEssay1-5, 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 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 essay 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

Basic reading:

  • Tropical Rain Forest Ecology, Diversity and Conservation – Jaboury Ghazoul and Douglas Sheil.
  • Tropical Ecology, Kricher, J. Princeton University Press. ISBN-13: 9780691115139
  • Costa Rican Natural History Janzen, D.H. University of Chicago Press. ISBN: 0226393348
  • Monteverde: ecology and conservation of a tropical cloud forest. N.M. Nadkarni & N.T. Wheelwright
  • Tourist guides to travelling in Costa Rica
  • Field guides on any plant and animal group in Costa Rica


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE page:

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Tropical rainforest, biodiversity, conservation, behaviour, identification, survey methods, ecology, biogeography

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO2426 Analysis of Biological Data

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date