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Module DNS-1003:
Ecology & Evolution

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Isabelle Winder

Overall aims and purpose

Ecology is about understanding the dynamic changes in individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems in relation to each other and the physical environment. An understanding of how organisms adapt and interact with each other and their biotic and abiotic environment is thus crucial as well as the behavioural and genetic basis for those changes. In an applied context, understanding the effects of humans on ecosystems requires a fundamental grounding in the nature and consequences of trophic interactions between species (food webs), the role of the abiotic environment and the factors which affect stability and resilience of ecosystems. This provides the basis for the sustainable management of natural and semi-natural systems.

Course content

  1. Introduction: the meaning and value of ecology

  2. Understanding the biological basis of diversity: genetic diversity and evolution 2.1 Genetic diversity: patterns of natural variation, genotype & phenotype, quantity & distribution of genetic variation 2.2 Forces of evolution: mutation, migration, selection and genetic drift 2.3 Theories of evolution: neo-Darwinism, Lamarck, Darwin’s “descent with modification”, subsequent observational and experimental evidence, modes of speciation, rates of evolution, extinction, phylogeny, evolution on earth

  3. Evolutionary Trees and their Meaning 3.1 What are phylogenetic trees and what do they tell us? 3.2 Constructing phylogenetic trees 3.3 Uses of phylogenetic trees: reconstructing the evolution of organismal traits, historical biogeography. 3.4 Phylogenetic trees and classification/taxonomy

  4. Community ecology: conditions, resources and the world’s communities 4.1 Geographical and temporal patterns at large and small scales 4.2 Spatial and temporal factors that influence richness 4.3 Gradients of species richness and island biogeography 4.4 Conservation: Species-area relationships, minimum critical areas; population distribution and fragmentation; in situ versus ex situ conservation

  5. Population ecology 5.1 Life history strategies and control of species abundance 5.2 Species interactions: Predation, Competition, Facilitation

  6. Marine Biodiversity and Sustainability 6.1 Limiting factors and disturbance 6.2 Body size relationships and diversity and trophic structure in the marine 6.3 Community & trophic structure structure in the marine (i.e. size structured) and hence energy flow 6.4 Marine harvests and sustainability 6.5 Aquaculture

  7. Animal behaviour ecology 7.1 What is behavioural ecology? 7.2 Proximate causes of behaviour 7.3 Ultimate causes of behaviour 7.4 Behavioural adaptations to survival 1 7.5 Behavioural adaptations to survival 2

Assessment Criteria


Grades D- to D+ Aware of the basic principles underlying the science of ecology as outlined in the learning outcomes.


Grades C- to B+ Better understanding of the principles as evidenced by an ability to explain the major aspects of the science of ecology. Ability to distinguish well-founded, and erroneous statements concerning biodiversity, the theory of evolution, and ecological science. Ability to explain the major components of the theory of evolution and of the main sections of the science of ecology and biogeography, and a range of examples of the application of ecology. Ability to recognise where ecology has been applied successfully, or unsuccessfully, in the management and conservation of biodiversity.


Grades A- and above Very good understanding of the science of ecology showing broad comprehension as evidenced by an ability to interpret relevant information critically, to recognise implications, to identify connections with other areas of knowledge and synthesise between them; knowledge spanning a wide range of relevant examples. Able to demonstrate insight into the paradox of ecology's importance versus the danger of applying it too simply or generally. Evidence of considerable effort, thought and background reading.

Learning outcomes

  1. An understanding of the basis of population growth and the dynamics and factors affecting these processes.

  2. An understanding of the basis of adaptation and evolutionary change.

  3. A knowledge of the major nutrient cycles.

  4. Understanding of the theory of evolution and the classification of biodiversity.

  5. A broad understanding of the science of ecology and biogeography.

  6. That they have informed views on how ecology can be applied to manage and conserve biodiversity more effectively.

  7. An understanding of the dynamics of food webs and forces that affect ecosystem stability.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Online mid-term test 1 20
Online mid-term test 2 20
Exam 60

Teaching and Learning Strategy


30*1 hour lectures

Private study

Private and guided self-study


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • 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
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • 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

  • Recognize the moral, ethical and social issues relating to the subject.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Engagement with current subject developments and their application.
  • Demonstrate the independence and skills required for continuing professional development


Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: