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Module BSX-3139:
Molecular Ecology & Evolution

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Alexander Papadopulos

Overall aims and purpose

This module provides a course on the basic principles, methodology and applications of molecular tools to ecology and evolution (molecular ecology). Its principal aims are to address the following questions:

  1. What is molecular ecology and why is it worth studying?
  2. What are the primary molecular tools that we can use in molecular ecology?
  3. What are the central evolutionary/genetic concepts that underpin molecular ecology?
  4. How can we use molecular ecology to examine population structure, behavioural ecology, community structure, and conservation genetics?
  5. How can the above information be used to design a project in molecular ecology at the individual, population, species or community level?

Course content

In the past few decades, molecular genetics has become one of the fastest growing fields in the life sciences. The application of molecular methods has spread to virtually all fields of modern biology, including ecology, conservation, breeding and natural resource management, leading to the establishment of Molecular Ecology. With the expansion of the application of molecular tools, it has become crucial that all biologists have a basic understanding of genetics and molecular biology. This includes the application of molecular tools to the detection of kin and population structure, the ability of populations to adapt to environmental change, conservation genetics and the assessment of the biodiversity of whole communities. The course takes advantage of the considerable research activity and expertise in molecular ecology and evolution within the School of Natural Sciences at Bangor. The focus will be on how recent advances in primarily DNA-based tools can be used at the population, species and community levels to explore the dynamics of biodiversity in a changing world, including a consideration of the range of molecular tools available, the analysis of population structure and adaptation in the wild, genomic approaches to the analysis of species and community diversity, aspects of behavioural ecology, conservation genetics and the management of exploited species. Although the course requires grounding in basic principles of genetics and evolutionary biology, the course aims to explain how molecular tools can assist in our understanding of whole-organism biology (e.g. behaviour, life history, dispersal), and the strategies that are available for conservation and management of taxa in the wild.

Assessment Criteria


Basic understanding of scientific methodology. Basic ability in the design of molecular ecology studies, data collection, analysis and interpretation. Basic understanding of evolutionary concepts and principles relating to molecular ecology, and of the genetic and demographic consequences of environmental change. Be able to plan, execute and present an independent piece of work (Research Project Proposal), in which qualities such as time management, team-working skills, problem solving and independence are evident, as well as interpretation and critical awareness of the quality of evidence


Strong understanding of scientific methodology. Good ability in the design of genetic studies, data collection, analysis and interpretation, and some understanding of how developments in new technologies open up novel areas of research. Solid understanding of evolutionary concepts and principles relating to molecular ecology, and of the genetic and demographic consequences of environmental change.


Comprehensive understanding of scientific methodology. Enhanced ability in the design of genetic studies, data collection, analysis and interpretation, and the ability to propose how developments in new technologies open up novel areas of research. Enhanced understanding of evolutionary concepts and principles relating to molecular ecology, and of the genetic and demographic consequences of environmental change.

Learning outcomes

  1. Develop cogent and critical arguments based on the course material.

  2. Working as a team, apply genetic and demographic concepts to address problems in molecular ecology.

  3. Undertake direct analysis of molecular genetic data within the context of principles in molecular ecology

  4. Demonstrate understanding of how different molecular genetic tools can be applied to tackle ecological and evolutionary questions at different biological levels (e.g. individual, population, species and community levels)

  5. Demonstrate understanding of the range of ecological and evolutionary questions that can be tackled using molecular genetic markers, from parentage analysis, analysis of population and community structure, through to behavioural ecology and conservation genetics

  6. Apply genetic and demographic concepts using team skills to hypothesis testing in the molecular ecology of organisms.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
EXAM End of Module Exam 50
COURSEWORK Research Project Proposal 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy


2 revision/exam workshop on revision techniques and working through exam model questions.

Group Project

Coursework workshop slots : 3-4 timetabled slots: Staff to be available for discussion/guidance throughout. Ongoing discussion with members of staff at group level on progress of RPPs.

Private study

Teaching strategy will be to introduce and develop key evolutionary and ecological principles that can be explored using advanced molecular markers at the individual, population, community levels. Students will receive guidance in key pertinent literature and particular emphasis will be placed on the design of studies in molecular ecology in relation to the key characteristics of molecular markers.


Interactive teaching sessions that will promote discussion and develop critical skills in relation to key principles. The module has been a 20 credit module since 2011-2012. The additional lecture slots have been utilised in a way to benefit students through active engagement in the learning process. For example, lecture slots are now available for supporting the course work programme, group presentations of the course work, and guidance in methods of data analysis during the RPP coursework. To benefit maximally from the logical sequence of lectures and the integration of background for the coursework, it is thus important to attend all lecture slots where possible. To facilitate focus and effort on course material, lectures will be delivered at an average of 4-6 per week, though the actual number does vary across weeks due to timetabling constraints. The scheduling of lectures is designed to maximise the opportunity to support development of the Research project Proposals (RPPs). There may be additional opportunities for students to attend seminars within the School seminar series and occasional seminars organised within the Molecular Ecology and Fisheries Genetics Laboratory (MEFGL) at Bangor.


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
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Caring - Showing concern for others; caring for children, people with disabilities and/or the elderly
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • 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
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

  • 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.


Resource implications for students

Some electronic versions of key papers are available on the Blackboard site, and copies of key texts are stored in the library for restricted loan.

Reading list

A reading list will be provided throughout the course.

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: