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Module BSX-3153:

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 module introduces you to the diversity of the order Primates and the multiple theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches that primatologists use to study them. Primates is one of the most numerous orders of mammals (second only to the order Rodentia); they are also our closest evolutionary relatives as we are also primates. To identify the crucial features that have contributed to their success as a taxon we will use evidence from a variety of fields to understand how they differ from other mammals but also what underpins the huge diversity found among them. We will examine primate variation in feeding ecology, reproductive strategies, and development to trace our shared ancestry within this group of mammals. Infanticide, sexual coercion, and lethal aggression are part of the life of many primates and we will address these behaviours from an evolutionary perspective to understand when and why they are likely to occur. We will also consider the evidence for primate culture and how it compares to what we usually consider as ‘culture’ in humans. Finally, drawing on the biological characteristics of the primates and the increasing anthropogenic changes to their habitats we will see why so many of them are facing extinction in the wild. Can some of those features that made primates so successful as a group over the course of evolution, also account for their possible demise in a world dominated by only one of their species - humans?

Lectures and independent reading will be supplemented by practical sessions in comparative anatomy, behavioural data collection techniques, behavioural data analysis, and GIS analysis (for spatial data). These will equip you with essential skills for designing and conducting your own primatological investigation.

Course content

Some of the themes covered in the module may include: Primate origins, evolution & current diversity • Comparative anatomy of modern primates • Ecology of primates and primate communities • Biogeography & primate niches • Primate social systems: evolution & diversity • Cooperation & competition in primate groups • Primate reproductive ecology & physiology • Life history strategies • Sexual selection & reproductive strategies • Cognitive evolution and culture • Primate conservation biology

Assessment Criteria


A threshold student should have a basic knowledge of the essential facts and key concepts presented in the module. Written work should demonstrate a basic ability to synthesise and interpret data from primary sources in a structured and logical manner, and all assessments should demonstrate the general capacity to organise material from lectures to present a coherent argument. (Grade D or C; mark range 40-59%)


An excellent student should have a high levels of detailed factual knowledge across all aspects of the module, and be able to detail examples and case studies where appropriate. Written work should demonstrate an ability to think critically about the subject and to synthesise lecture material and information from extensive background reading in support of detailed, developed arguments. (Grade A; mark range 70-100%)


A good student should have thorough factual knowledge across all aspects of the module, and be able to cite examples and case studies where appropriate. Written work should demonstrate an ability to think about the subject and to synthesise lecture material and some information from background reading into coherent, developed arguments. (Grade B; mark range 60-69%)

Learning outcomes

  1. Explain and critique theories of primate origins/ecology in the context of wider debates in evolutionary biology, biogeography and palaeobiology;

  2. Describe and evaluate the significance of broad patterns in modern primate ecology, biology and taxonomy;

  3. Demonstrate a critical understanding of several key areas of primate biology – e.g. morphology, ecology, biogeography, evolutionary biology, socioecology/behaviour, conservation – and explain how studying our close relatives has contributed to advances in these fields;

  4. Synthesise and discuss evidence relating to the ways in which primate behaviour and cognition differ from those of other species and explore theories for the evolution of the primate suite of adaptations.

  5. Utilize knowledge obtained through practical training on this module to provide an analytical critique of the methodology, findings and conclusions of peer-reviewed studies in the field of primatology.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
REPORT Comparative anatomy practical report

Practical report based on your work in the comparative anatomy practical.

EXAM MCQ final exam

Final exam with MCQs during exam period in January. In 2020/21 it will take place online, open-book. You will have a 24 hour window to complete.

ESSAY A critique of a chosen publication

A critical analysis of a published paper. Essay-style.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


We will have 5 time-tabled drop-in 'office hour' sessions during the semester. The aim of these is to provide you with an opportunity to come and ask any questions on the material you need help.


Live online sessions will focus on discussing key concepts, readings and your questions.

Practical classes and workshops

2020/21 update: Four practical sessions will take place. The first one will be in-person (comparative anatomy). The remaining three practicals (behavioural sampling techiniques, data analysis, and GIS) will be delivered online via both pre-recorded material and live interactions sessions (which will appear on your time-table).


Blended delivery in 2020/21. Most lecture videos will be available for independent viewing each week. Live delivery will appear on the timetable.

Private study

Watching pre-recorded material; reading of assigned readings; preparing for seminars etc. A very important part of your learning strategy.


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.
  • 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

  • Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
  • Collect, analyse and interpret primary and/or secondary data using appropriate qualitative and/or quantitative techniques.
  • Awareness of the concepts of spatial and temporal scale in understanding processes and relationships.
  • Apply appropriate techniques for presenting spatial and/or temporal trends in data.
  • Preparation of effective maps, diagrams and visualizations.
  • Engagement with current developments in the biosciences and their application.
  • Appreciation of the complexity and diversity of life processes through the study of organisms.
  • Engage in debate and/or discussion with specialists and non-specialists using appropriate language.
  • Undertake practical work to ensure competence in basic experimental skills.


Courses including this module

Optional in courses: