Module BSX-2033:
Primatology Field Course

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Alexander Georgiev

Overall aims and purpose

This field course introduces students to a range of techniques for studying primate behaviour, ecology, and conservation in the wild. It develops students’ observational skills and ability to collect and interpret data on a range of topics, depending on students’ particular interests. Based in one of the most primate-rich rainforests in Africa, Kibale National Park in Uganda, this field course allows students to explore the lush diversity of tropical life and to learn first-hand about the significant conservation issues that affect this ecosystem and its inhabitants. The practical skills acquired during this field course will be valuable to students interested in conducting field research for their Year 3 dissertations on a range of species, though those who have a particular interest in primates or other social mammals would benefit the most.

Course content

Theoretical themes developed in this module (via directed reading and student observations in the field) may include: tropical rainforest ecology, primate community ecology, primate behavioural ecology (including feeding ecology, grouping, reproductive strategies, ranging behaviour, social interactions, and interspecific interactions), primate conservation biology, tropical rainforest conservation, community-focused approaches to conservation.

Practical skills that students will develop in the field (and prepare for by directed reading) may include: identifying primate species and distinguishing individuals of different age-sex classes; quantifying group size and composition; behaviour sampling techniques for quantifying primate behaviour (focal animal sampling, group scan sampling); ecological sampling techniques to characterize and quantify forest structure and composition (transects and plots); designing and carrying out censuses to quantify primate abundance and distribution; identifying primate foods and measuring their abundance; collecting and mapping spatial data on the ranging behaviour of primate groups via GPS technology; using sound and video recording equipment to study primate vocalisations and behaviour; collecting data on anthropogenic impacts on the forest.

Research design skills that will be developed in this module may include: conducting preliminary observations in the field and using those in combination with reading of the literature to identify a gap in scientific knowledge; formulating research questions, hypotheses and predictions; evaluating different methodological approaches and choosing the most appropriate ones given a specific research objective; collecting pilot data to test feasibility of methods; refining methodology based on pilot observations; preparing a research proposal based on independent reading and practical experience in the field.

Assessment Criteria


Record observations in a reasonably clear and systematic fashion and have some grasp of the practical issues relating to collection and presentation of data/observations. Exhibit adequate knowledge of habitats and biota visited and the relevant conservation/management issues. Present findings largely accurately and clearly. Have reasonable competence in using personal observations and theoretical knowledge for the design of a feasible research plan for a field study.

Grades: D- to D+


Record observations in clearly and systematically, with a good grasp of the practical issues relating to collection and presentation of data/observations. Exhibit strong knowledge of habitats and biota visited and the relevant conservation/management issues. Present findings accurately and with flair, clarity and originality. Show good competence in using personal observations and theoretical knowledge for the design a feasible research plan for a field study.

Grades: C- to B+


Record observations thoroughly and clearly, providing detail on behavioral and ecological context, along with informed functional and evolutionary interpretation. Exhibit a profound grasp of the practical issues relating to collection and presentation of data/observations, taking a mature approach to the practicalities of competing socioeconomic pressures. Present findings accurately and succinctly with clarity, imagination, and originality. Show strong competence in using field observations and theoretical knowledge for the design a detailed and feasible research plan for a field study that is original and realistic.

Grades: A- and above.

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate the ability to make detailed, thorough and original field observations and to record and present them systematically.

  2. Appreciate the diversity of field methods available to study primate behaviour, ecology, and conservation and be able to critically evaluate their suitability to address particular research questions in a given context.

  3. Demonstrate the ability to design and carry out a small-scale observational or ecological study of primates in their natural habitat.

  4. Demonstrate first-hand knowledge of overall ecosystem biodiversity in the study location with a focus on primate diversity, ecology, and behaviour.

  5. Appreciate the complex conservation issues facing primates in the study location on the basis of personal observations during the field course and their detailed knowledge of the literature.

  6. Demonstrate competency in applying theoretical understanding of primatological field methods to collect original observations and data in the field.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Research proposal

Student will develop a research proposal for an original study of primate behaviour, ecology or conservation based on their pilot observations in the field and their broader reading of the literature. This proposal will incorporate pilot data collected in the field and an assessment of the feasibility of the methods that were employed.


Students will keep detailed field notes while in the field and record their original observations as well as data they collect during practical sessions or during pilot work. In general, students will make notes in their field notebook on a daily basis while in the field. Sketches can also be included. Notes should be provided for every practical training session and for any other observations made during this trip that are relevant to the learning outcomes and to the project work, as determined by staff. There will be no indicative word count associated with this assessment as field note-taking is a very personal process and some students may provide very concise yet comprehensive notes, while other students may prefer to write at length to convey the same observations. In evaluating these notes, we take into account the process and quality more so than the quantity of the notes produced.

INDIVIDUAL BLOG Blogpost essay

Students will write a blogpost detailing an aspect of their trip they were particularly excited or fascinated by. It should be accompanied with original media (e.g., photos, videos, or sound recordings). It will be targeted at the general public but will be grounded in the learning and research the students have undertaken during the field course.


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study

Students will undertake directed reading to prepare for the field course and work on analysis of pilot data they will collect in the field for their assessment.


Preparatory lectures in Bangor before departure to provide overview of the field course structure and plan of work as well as to introduce the field site and major themes that will be covered via direct observation in the field.


The duration of the course varies may vary depending on budget limitation but will generally be in the range of 10 - 14 days. During the field trip students will spend most of the time in a residential biological field station. Teaching will occur via a combination of (a) structured practical sessions, (b) unstructured exploratory walks in the forest, and (c) the design and execution of a student-led pilot study of an aspect of primate behaviour, ecology or conservation. Presentations by staff and visiting lecturers will provide theoretical grounding in major concepts and issues. In addition, during several short excursions to surrounding areas, students will visit community-led conservation initiatives to gain a diverse perspective on the conservation issues of tropical forest conservation.

Practical classes and workshops

Practical workshops on data management and analysis in Bangor on return from the field. Students will be shown and guided through the use of simple data sorting, cleaning, and presentation techniques, including some statistical analysis methods.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • PS1 Communication skills, covering both written and oral communication with a variety of audiences
  • PS2 Skills in the employment of common conventions and standards in scientific writing, data presentation, and referencing literature
  • PS3 Problem-solving skills, relating to qualitative and quantitative information
  • PS4 Numeracy and mathematical skills, including handling data, algebra, functions, trigonometry, calculus, vectors and complex numbers, alongside error analysis, order-of-magnitude estimations, systematic use of scientific units and different types of data presentation
  • PS5 Information location and retrieval skills, in relation to primary and secondary information sources, and the ability to assess the quality of information accessed
  • PS7 Basic interpersonal skills, relating to the ability to interact with other people and to engage in teamworking
  • PS8 Time management and organisational skills, as evidenced by the ability to plan and implement efficient and effective ways of working
  • PS11 Problem-solving skills including the demonstration of self-direction, initiative and originality
  • PS6 Information technology skills which support the location, management, processing, analysis and presentation of scientific information
  • PS13 The ability to make decisions in complex and unpredictable situations
  • PS15 The ability to think critically in the context of data analysis and experimental design
  • SK9 Read and engage with scientific literature
  • SK10. Development of project-specific experimental skills.
  • SK11. Reading and engaging with scientific literature.
  • SK12. Planning, including evaluation of hazards and environmental effects.
  • SK13. Making oral presentations and writing reports, including critical evaluation.
  • SK15. Implementation of planned experiments.
  • SK16. Recording of data and their critical analysis.
  • SK19. Complementarystudies outside, butcognate to, area ofspecialism.
  • SK20. Development of generalstrategies including the identification of additional information required andproblems where there is not a uniquesolution.


Resource implications for students

Students bear total cost of field course. The cost is approximately £1,800 - £2000 and is updated annually. Students may also need to purchase personal field kit (e.g., field clothes, backpacks, water bottles, suitable hiking shoes, waterproof clothes and notebooks etc.), pay for vaccinations (e.g., yellow fever is mandatory for some countries), and optional extras (personal expenses). All equipment required for participating in field activities and completing assessments (e.g., binoculars, GPS units, measuring tapes, etc.) is provided by the School. Students may also want to purchase the core textbooks so they can use them in the field.

Talis Reading list

Reading list

The exact reading list will vary depending on topical focus of iterations of this module and the research interests of individual students. Will be communicated to students via Blackboard or other suitable means.

The following books are however core reading and should be available in sufficient amounts from the library (or purchased by students, if they prefer):

Martin, P. & Bateson, P. (2007) Measuring Behaviour: An Introductory Guide. Third Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Setchell, J.M. & Curtis, D.J., eds. (2011) Field and Laboratory Methods in Primatology: A Practical Guide. Cambridge University Press.

Sterling, E.J., Bynum, N., & Blair, M.E., eds. (2013) Primate Ecology and Conservation: A Handbook of Techniques. Oxford University Press.

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: