MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology

Duration Full time 1 year
  • Biosciences
LocationCornwall (Penryn)
Start date September


MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology video

Find out more from staff and students about the MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology programme. View full size.

  • Delivered by leading international researchers in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, who regularly publish in peer-reviewed journals
  • Designed to prepare you for a future research career with excellent graduate employment opportunities. In the first year of operation, 78 per cent of our students had secured a PhD position before finishing the programme
  • Provides extensive training in current research techniques
  • Develops knowledge and critical awareness of current problems and new insights in evolutionary and behavioural ecology, much of which is at, or informed by, study at the forefront of the field
  • Offers access to excellent facilities including state-of-the-art molecular and genetics labs with a full range of microscopy equipment, greenhouses, aviary and controlled environment rooms

This Masters degree is taught by the Centre for Ecology and Conservation (CEC), whose evolutionary and behaviour research groups are amongst the most dynamic in the UK. As an MSc student you will be integrated into these groups and conduct cutting-edge research projects that aim to make genuine contributions to the field of evolutionary and behavioural ecology. The goal is to prepare you for a future research career.

The Centre is the fastest growing institute of its kind in the UK and an integral part of the School of Biosciences at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall. Research is almost exclusively organismal, with particular emphasis on social mammals, birds, turtles and insects. We also specialise in modelling animal behaviour and species interactions and see this as essential and complementary to our whole approach. The other area of emphasis which underpins much of our work is quantitative and molecular genetics; fundamental to the evolutionary process and to conservation biology and policy issues.

When I graduated from the University of Bristol I knew that I wanted to study towards a PhD but felt that I did not have the confidence or skills to do so immediately. Many of my lecturers advised enrolling on a Masters course; whilst some thought that a taught course would be most beneficial, others believed that I would be better to embark on a research-based course. The MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus sounded perfect. I feel sure that this Masters course helped me get my placement and has also prepared me for my future research career.

Ruth Archer, MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology graduate, NERC-funded PhD 'Nutrition and ageing in crickets'.

Programme structure

The following tables describe the programme and constituent modules. Constituent modules may be updated, deleted or replaced as a consequence of the annual programme review of this programme.

Should students with mobility or health disabilities want to undertake fieldwork, then reasonable adjustments and/or alternative assessment can be considered.

180 credits of compulsory modules

Compulsory modules

BIOM4009Research Project 90
BIOM4017Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology 15
BIOM4018Approaches in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology 15
BIOM4019African Behavioural Ecology Field Course 30
BIOM4025Statistical Modelling 15
LESM001Key Skills 15

The modules we outline here provide examples of what you can expect to learn on this degree course based on recent academic teaching. The precise modules available to you in future years may vary depending on staff availability and research interests, new topics of study, timetabling and student demand.

Learning and teaching

The taught component of this programme is delivered in the first five months, during which time you will be encouraged to develop an independent research topic. The rest of the academic year is dedicated to your research project.

Teaching and learning methods

All material is designed for Masters level and will involve fieldwork, seminars and group discussion. Within modules there is considerable scope for you to direct your learning towards fields of particular interest, especially through your choice of research project. Students are located in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation laboratories, where close working relationships are fostered. Every student has the personal and academic support of the programme director, as well as their academic tutor, module leaders and project supervisors. Because of the layout of our research laboratory, postdoctoral researchers and PhD students interact closely with postgraduates to provide more personal support during the research phase of the programme.


Taught modules will be assessed through formal oral presentation, written reports and discussions, during or upon the immediate completion of these modules. A significant proportion of the assessment is based on the research project and associated literature review and oral presentation.

On the completion of my undergraduate degree in Zoology at Royal Holloway, University of London, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in research but was unsure as to what area of evolutionary ecology I wanted to specialise in, so felt that an MSc would be a great way of helping me to decide. The taught component of this MSc covered evolutionary and behavioural ecology really broadly, with small seminar groups so everyone could get involved in discussions. The research project then allowed me to focus on an area that specifically interested me and I have just got back from spending four months in South Africa carrying out field work on intra-sexual competition in vervet monkeys. The past year has been a great way of preparing me for my PhD and I know that having this MSc on my CV helped to promote my application, as well as giving me confidence in the interview. There is a really friendly atmosphere here, with staff being approachable for any questions or problems you might have. I highly recommend the course.

Amanda Gilby, MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology graduate, PhD 'Maintenance of polymorphism in the Gouldian finch', Macquarie University, Australia.


Kenya field course

Join staff and students on their MSc field course in Kenya from the University of Exeter where they are focusing on the biodiversity and conservation of this exciting region. View full size.

The census research projects will see you spending a considerable amount of time in the field collecting data at several key research sites in West Cornwall and interacting with local NGOs (Cornwall Wildlife Trust, South West Lakes Trust).

This programme includes a two week field course in Kenya and will include visits to some of Africa’s largest and most important game reserves, as well as an introduction to some of the day-to-day problems faced by conservation biologists in developing nations. You will study the behaviour of animals in a natural ecological setting with a focus on large mammals, birds and insects. Travel and subsistence costs for this part of the programme are included in the programme fee.

Find out more about our field course modules.

You can also keep up to date and share the experiences of our students in the field on our Field Course Fortnight website.

The Africa field course was an incredible journey, I had never seen such wildlife! If you can deal with leopards wandering through the camp at night you will see more birds, mammals and insects than you can shake a ruddy great stick at.

Roman Popat, MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology graduate

The Africa field course was one of the most amazing trips I have ever undertaken and it was not only brilliant fun but also a good opportunity for honing my international conservation knowledge.

Nick Phillips, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity graduate, now a Biodiversity Policy Officer with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds


Our MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology programme ensures the training you will receive links directly to relevant employment opportunities within the UK and abroad. A prominent feature of this programme is to prepare you for research and it is expected that a significant proportion of graduates will go on to study for PhDs. Indeed the majority of our students have been successful in attaining a PhD position during the course of their time with us. Below are a few examples of the PhDs to which our graduates have progressed.

  • PhD University of Exeter ‘Effects of over-winter dietary provisioning on health and productivity of garden birds’
  • PhD Macquarie University, Australia ‘Maintenance of polymorphism in the Goulian Finch’
  • PhD University of New South Wales, Australia ‘Habitat mediated changes to marine biodiversity’
  • PhD University of Nottingham ‘Communication, cooperation and conflict in bacteria’
  • PhD Oxford University ‘Processes generating and maintaining diversity in an Amazonian bird community’
  • PhD University of Edinburgh ‘Sexual conflict in seed bugs’

You can read more profiles of our students' experiences since graduation on our student profiles page.

Find out more about our career support schemes for postgraduate students.

I have been offered a PhD at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia to study 'Habitat mediated changes to marine biodiversity'. During my degree in Marine Biology & Coastal Ecology (BSc Hons, 1st class) at the University of Plymouth I studied the foraging behaviour of oystercatchers on aggregations of limpets for my honours thesis. This developed my interests in behavioural adaptations and why they occur to such an extent that I decided to embark on a Masters where I could increase my understanding in this area, thus I chose the MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology at the University of Exeter in Cornwall. Now I am hopefully able to combine my marine, behavioural and evolutionary interests in my forthcoming PhD.

Emma Birdsey, MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology graduate, PhD 'Habitat mediated changes to marine biodiversity' University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

After completing my undergraduate degree at the University of York, I knew that I wanted to progress to do a PhD. However I was unsure what area within evolutionary ecology to pursue a PhD in. I decided to do an MSc in evolutionary and behavioural ecology to broaden my knowledge and gain greater understanding of specific fields within evolutionary ecology.

I found the key skills aspect of the course very beneficial for my CV in applying for PhD studentships. It provided me with greater confidence in going into interviews knowing that I had the skills necessary to undertake a PhD as well as the theoretical understanding. The taught aspect of the course was very rewarding as together with the small size of our course we were able to discuss issues and theories in a relaxed environment gaining greater understanding. The 6th month research project was also very useful as it allowed me to explore a new area of research and provided me with the platform on which to attempt a PhD. I am now going to do a PhD in Edinburgh, studying sexual conflict in seed bugs, and combining lab work in winter with field work in Italy in summer. If you think that you want to do a PhD but would like to explore more biology first to gain a broader foundation, I thoroughly recommend doing an MSc.

Gethan Evans, MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology graduate, PhD 'Sexual conflict in seed bugs' University of Edinburgh

Entry requirements 2016

Normally at least a 2:1 Honours degree or equivalent in a science subject, although non-science backgrounds may be considered.

Requirements for international students

If you are an international student, please visit our international equivalency pages to enable you to see if your existing academic qualifications meet our entry requirements.

English language requirements

IELTS (Academic)

Overall score 6.5. No less than 6.0 in any section.


Overall score 90 with minimum scores of 21 for writing, 21 for listening, 22 for reading and 23 for speaking.

Pearson Test of English (Academic)

58 with no less than 55 in all communicative skills.

Other accepted tests

Information about other acceptable tests of linguistic ability can be found on our English language requirements page.

Pre-sessional English

Applicants with lower English language test scores may be able to take pre-sessional English at INTO University of Exeter prior to commencing their programme. See our English language requirements page for more information.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees per year 2016/17

  • UK/EU: £11,500
  • International: £21,000 full-time

The fee includes costs of all field trips including 2-week residential course to Africa.

Fee information

Fees can normally be paid by two termly instalments and may be paid online. You will also be required to pay a tuition fee deposit to secure your offer of a place, unless you qualify for exemption. For further information about paying fees see our Student Fees pages.


Find out about funding opportunities available to students on our taught Masters programmes in Biosciences.

University funding

The Funding website has information on all available options for funding open to prospective students of taught Masters programmes. You can also use the searchable database of all Scholarships and Bursaries to find funding for which you are eligible.

Contact us

We welcome enquiries about the course, for further information contact:

Phone: +44 (0)1326 371801

The Programme Director is Professor Nina Wedell.