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Biodiversity and Evolution on Islands

Module titleBiodiversity and Evolution on Islands
Module codeJBIM005
Academic year2020/1
Module staff
Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module is divided into two sections: 1) Island Biodiversity and 2) Evolution on Islands. Part one introduces the most spectacular cases of island radiation in both the plant and animal realms that make island biodiversity unique. Part two focuses on the evolutionary context existing in oceanic islands that have created such incredible biodiversity. Moreover, you are introduced to the fundamentals of natural selection and genetic drift, as well as to the geographic and genetic ways of understanding speciation yielding to anagenetic or cladogenetic processes. Finally, the island syndrome or island rule is analysed and the most prominent transformations, such as size shift, island woodiness, loss of dispersability, etc. is exemplified and their origins discussed.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Islands are simultaneously museums of relic species extinct in the continents, and evolutionary laboratories where new, exclusive species are being constantly created. Thus, island biodiversity is outstanding, both in terms of unique species, as witnessed by the huge rate of endemicity existing in both oceanic and continental fragment islands, but especially due to the disproportionate contribution of the islands to the world biota, ca. 25%, even if the islands just mean less than a 5% of the emerged territories. Therefore, the aim of the module is to explore both the radiating lineages of island biodiversity, and the evolutionary scenarios that have made this process possible.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe in detail the origin of the most important cases of island radiation existing worldwide
  • 2. Present the evolutionary basis of the disproportionate contribution of islands to the world biodiversity
  • 3. Discuss the different evolutionary scenarios existing on islands

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Apply statistical and modelling skills to understand and interpret quantitative analyses using the more important statistical computational tools and packages
  • 5. Analyse scientific results and determine their strength and validity

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Demonstrate management skills, such as decision-making, problem definition, project design and evaluation, risk management, teamwork and coordination, and resources and time management
  • 7. Transfer techniques and solutions form one discipline to another

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that they syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Island Biodiversity:
    • The disproportionate contribution of the insular biota to global biodiversity
    • Radiating and non-radiating taxa: causes
    • Some examples of explosive species radiation on oceanic islands and lakes
      • The cichlids of African lakes
  • The Biodiversity of Europe’s and UK Outermost Regions and Territories
  • Evolution on Islands:
    • Evolutionary processes occurring on islands
    • Speciation frames
    • Selection through competition; character displacement; sexual selection; polyploidy and transgressive hybridisation; mechanisms of reproductive isolation
    • Evolutionary trends on islands;insularity syndrome
    • Paleo- and neoendemisms; gigantism and dwarfism
    • Selection by migration

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 Teaching30Lectures – class-based activities and lecture
Guided Independent Study60Pre-reading for lectures – accessible via UoE VLE
Guided Independent Study60Writing up and finishing assessment(s)


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
Report401500 words2,5,7Oral
Examination6050 questions1,3-4,6Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ReportReport2,4,7Four weeks from the date feedback was given
ExaminationExamination1,3-4,6Four weeks from the date feedback was given

Re-assessment notes

Two assessments are required for this module. In all cases re-assessment will be the same as the original assessment. Where you have been referred/deferred for any form of assessment detailed above you will have the opportunity to retake within the period specified above from the date that feedback was provided.

If you pass re-assessments taken as a result of deferral, your re-assessment will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment and the overall module mark will not be capped.

If you pass re-assessments taken as a result of referral (i.e. following initial failure in the assessment), the overall module mark will be capped at 50%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading


  • Kueffer, C., Drake, D. & Fernández-Palacios, J.M. (in press) Island Biology. In Gibson, D. (ed.) Oxford Bibliographies in Ecology

Key Texts:

  • Carlquist, S. 1974. Island Biology. Columbia University Press, Nueva York.
  • Cody, M. 2006. Plants on islands. Diversity and dynamics of a continental archipelago. California University Press.
  • Fernández-Palacios, J.M., (2011) Why Islands? In: Pérez Mellado, V. & Ramón, C. (eds.) Islands and Evolution. Institut Menorquí d’Estudis.
  • Fernández-Palacios, J.M. (2011) The islands of Macaronesia. In: Serrano , P. Et al. (eds.) Terrestrial arthropods of Macaronesia. Biodiversity, ecology and evolution. Sociedad Portuguesa de Entolomología. Lisboa
  • Fernández-Palacios, J.M. (2016) Shaped by sea-levels shifts. Nature, 532: 42-43
  • Fernández-Palacios, J.M. & Morici, C. (eds.) 2004. Ecología Insular / Island Ecology. Cabildo Insular de La Palma, AEET.
  • Fernández-Palacios, J.M., Rijsdijk, K.F., Norder, S.J., Otto, R., de Nascimento, L., Fernández-Lugo, S., Tjørve, E. & Whittaker, R.J. (2016) Towards a glacial-sensitive model of island biogeography. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 25: 817-830
  • Fernández-Palacios, J.M, de Nascimento, L Otto, R., Delgado, J.D., Garcia del Rey, E., Arévalo, J.R. & Whittaker, R. (2011) A reconstruction of Palaeo-Macaronesia, with particular reference to the long-term biogeography of the Atlantic island laurel forests. Journal of Biogeography, 38: 226-246
  • Gorman, M. 1979. Island Ecology. Chapman & Hall, Londres.
  • Gotelli, N. 2006. A primer of Ecology. Sinauer.
  • Grant, P. (ed.) 1998. Evolution on Islands. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Grant, P. & Grant, R.M. 2008. How and why species multiply. The radiation of Darwin’s finches. Princeton University Press.
  • Lomolino, M., Riddle, B., Whittaker, R.J. &  Brown, J. 2010. Biogeography. 4ª Edición. Sinauer.
  • Hanski, I. 1999. Metapopulation Ecology. Cambridge University Press.
  • Mayr, E. 1970. Populations, species and evolution. Harvard University Press
  • Menard, W. 1986. Islands. Scientific American Library.
  • McArthur, R. & Wilson, E.O. 1967. The theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton.
  • Mueller-Dombois, D. Bridges, & Carson, H. (eds.) Island Ecosystems (1980). Hutchinson Ross
  • Nunn, P.D. 1994. Oceanic Islands. Blackwell, Londres.
  • Stuessy, T. & Ono, M. 1998. Evolution and speciation of island plants. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.
  • Thornton, I. 2007. Island Colonization. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Wallace, A.R. 1998. Island Life. Edición Fascimil. Prometeus Books, Nueva York. 
  • Whittaker, R.J. & Fernández-Palacios, J.M. 2007. Island Biogeography. Ecology, Evolution and Conservation. 2nd Ed. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Whittaker, R.J., Fernández-Palacios, J.M., Matthews, T.A., Borregaard, M.K., & Triantis, K.A. (2017) Island biogeography: Taking the long view of nature’s laboratories. Science, 357, eaam8326
  • Whittaker, R.J., Triantis, K.A. & Ladle, R.J. (2008) A general dynamic theory of oceanic island biogeography. Journal of Biogeography, 35: 977–994
  • Williamson, M. 1981. Island Populations. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources


  • BBC South Pacific
  • Canarias Reductos de Biodiversidad

Key words search

Biodiversity, conservation, islands, evolution, biogeography, species, radiation 

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date