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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

Humans are primates. To understand humans from an evolutionary perspecitve, we must also learn about what it is to be a nonhuman primate. This module will guide you through the remarkable diversity of primates: their evolutionary origins, comparative anatomy, ecological and behavioural strategies and adaptations. We will examine some of the hallmark traits of the primates including the anatomical adaptations that have allowed them to be one of the most ecologically successful groups of mammals and their advanced sociality, cooperation, and intelligence. We will also 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 of them are facing extinction in the wild and what can be done to prevent that. Lectures and independent reading will provide you with the theoretical foundations to grapple with the diversity of primate strategies and adaptations. In addition, four hands-on practical sessions (1. Comparative anatomy at the Brambell Museum; 2. ArcGIS data analysis; 3. Field trip to collect data on monkey behaviour; 4. Behavioural data analysis techniques) will equip you with essential practical skills for designing and conducting your own primatological investigation.

Course content

Some of the themes covered in the module 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
COURSEWORK Primatology critical review paper

A critical review of the primary literature focused on a specific and well-defined research question.

EXAM Online final test

This test will cover material from lectures & readings.

COURSEWORK Proposal for final paper topic

A one-page outline to indicate the chosen topic for the final paper and the rationale for picking it.


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Practical classes and workshops

Four practicals: 1. Museum-based anatomy (3h); 2. Computer based GIS analysis (2h); 3. Field trip behavioural observations (8h); 4. Computer based analysis of behavioural data (2h).

Lecture 25
Private study 158

Students present ideas for their final papers and receive oral feedback during an in-class workshop session.


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: