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Postgraduate Taught

MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology

UCAS code 1234
Duration 1 year full time
2 years part time
Entry year 2024
Campus Penryn Campus
Discipline Biosciences
Typical offer

View full entry requirements

Normally at least a 2:1 Honours degree or equivalent in a relevant subject

Contextual offers


  • Cutting-edge training in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology, delivered by internationally-recognised experts in the field
  • Designed to prepare you for a career in research
  • Builds knowledge and understanding of key frontier topics and diverse modern methods in evolutionary and behavioural ecology
  • Includes a behavioural ecology field course in Africa. Please note, a low-carbon alternative programme is also available.
  • Gain first-hand experience conducting a major research project within our world-class research teams in Ecology and Conservation
  • Excellent research facilities including microbiology, molecular and controlled environment laboratories, and opportunities to study natural animal populations in the spectacular surroundings of Cornwall.

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Fast Track (current Exeter students)

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Programme Director: Professor Andrew Young

Web: Enquire online

Phone: +44 (0)1392 72 72 72

Top 20 in the UK for world-leading research in Biological Sciences

REF 2021, based on 4-star research

9th in the world for Ecology

ShanghaiRankings Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2022

90% of our Biological Sciences research is internationally excellent

Based on research rated 4* and 3* in the Research Excellence Framework 2021

Entry requirements

Normally a 2:1 degree or above in a relevant science subject* is required, although applicants with a 2:1 degree in another subject will be considered if their CV and personal statement evidence significant relevant research experience.

*Relevant subjects include: Biology, Biosciences, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Geography,  Marine Biology, Natural Sciences, Zoology.

Entry requirements for international students

English language requirements

International students need to show they have the required level of English language to study this course. The required test scores for this course fall under Profile B2. Please visit our English language requirements page to view the required test scores and equivalencies from your country.

Course content

This MSc course has been designed to train the next generation of researchers in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology, through inspirational teaching and practical, first-hand research experience.

The course is delivered by leading academics with global reputations in evolutionary biology, behavioural ecology and animal behaviour research, and is based at the University’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation; one of the largest and most active groups of organismal biologists in the world.

Through interactive seminars, discussions and practical activities led by experts in each area, you will build an advanced understanding of frontier topics in evolutionary biology, behavioural ecology and animal behaviour research, and gain practical experience in the diverse modern methods that are used to test hypotheses in these fields. You will also receive high-level training in the statistical and transferable skills needed for a career in research.

On our field course to Kenya you will learn to develop and test evolutionary ideas in the wild, in spectacular settings that have yielded many iconic advances in behavioural ecology. And the MSc course culminates with all candidates gaining essential research experience by conducting a major research project of their own, embedded within one of our world-class research groups. More information on each module can be found below.

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.

Course variants

In line with our commitment to tackling the global climate emergency, we offer this programme with a low-carbon UK field course destination. This allows you to make an alternative choice when applying for this course. This programme also offers lower tuition fees.

The MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology with UK field course offers the alternative field course option and allows you to consider the meaning of the word “wild” in the UK. You will learn the political, regulatory, economic, scientific, ecological and social opportunities and constraints that affect all attempts to conserve biodiversity in our changing world.

This residential field course will perform a transect through the United Kingdom’s hotspots of marine and terrestrial biodiversity, human-wildlife conflict and ecological restoration. You will see the endangered wildlife of the UK, and meet the people who are stakeholders in their management or their conservation: National Park authorities; farmers; Natural England employees; conservation charity managers; people delivering species translocations; researchers; ecological consultants; tourism operators and the general public.

Read more about the alternative field course module

When participating in field courses, you may be required to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, e.g. walking boots, rucksack.

Research gallery


This programme includes a two-week field course in Africa, during which you will go on safari in areas of incredible biodiversity, allowing you to study the behaviour of a variety of wild animals. You will have an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of pioneering evolutionary biologists, visiting their field sites, observing their study species, and discussing their groundbreaking research.

These experiences will allow you to develop your own research questions and undertake a short project while in the field. Travel and subsistence costs for this part of the programme are included in the programme fee; however there may be some additional costs such as equipment - see the Fees section for more information.

In line with our commitment to tackling the global climate emergency, the University of Exeter offers this programme with a low-carbon UK field course destination. This allows you to make an alternative choice when applying for this course. For more information about this alternative, please see the variants section.

More about the Kenya field course:

On this field course you will have an opportunity to visit sites where many of the leviathans of behavioural ecology conducted some of their most iconic research. At beautiful locations such as Samburu, Lake Nakuru, and Amboseli, we observe fascinating animal behaviours and consider the evolutionary processes that have shaped traits such as communication systems, mate choice, and cooperation.

Whilst exploring Kenya’s biodiverse Afro-tropical habitats, we encounter an array of species ranging from widowbirds and sparrow-weavers to hyaenas and lions. You'll even have an opportunity to get up close and personal with a troop of habituated baboons at the Twala Cultural Centre. 

Tutored by our experienced academic staff, you will learn how to develop hypotheses, make predictions, collect and analyse data, and interpret their findings in order to explain the world around them. By conceiving, designing, and executing a research project, you'll gain a better understanding of the scientific process, a firmer knowledge of field techniques, and a greater sense of independence. You'll also hone your skills in describing and effectively communicating the practical and theoretical issues surrounding animal behaviour and ecology, and in applying theory to practical problems in the field.

These skills are evaluated during the field course through assessed project discussions and presentations. After returning to the UK, you will perform a statistical analysis of data collected during the trip, and create a poster presentation sharing the results and conclusions of this work.

The field trip was a fantastic experience. Kenya is bursting with wildlife and was the perfect setting to learn and discuss how this fascinating diversity evolved. The highlight of the trip was the research project: I spent four days studying zebra social behaviour in a National Park – amazing! It really sparked my enthusiasm to pursue life as a scientist.


MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology


2024/25 entry

UK fees per year:

£15,700 full-time; £7,850 part-time

International fees per year:

£29,500 full-time; £14,750 part-time

MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology with UK field course

UK fees per year:

£14,500 full-time; £7,250 part-time

International fees per year:

£28,300 full-time; £14,150 part-time


We invest heavily in scholarships for talented prospective Masters students. This includes over £5 million in scholarships for international students, such as our Global Excellence Scholarships*.

For more information on scholarships, please visit our scholarships and bursaries page.

*Selected programmes only. Please see the Terms and Conditions for each scheme for further details.


The fees include costs of field trips including a 2-week residential course to Africa. When participating in field courses, where necessary, you will be required to cover any visa costs and purchase anti-malarial medication and relevant immunisations.

Please note, in line with our commitment to tackling the global climate emergency, we offer a variant of this programme which provides a low-carbon UK field course destination. This allows you to make an alternative choice when applying for this course. The alternative programme also offers lower tuition fee costs. For more information about this alternative, please see the variants section.

You will also need to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, e.g. walking boots, rucksack, mosquito net, sleeping bag, binoculars. You may incur additional costs dependent upon the specific demands of the research project chosen.

Read more

Teaching and research

Research community

During the MSc you will join a world-class community of researchers in organismal biology at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation (CEC). The Centre is the largest and fastest-growing institute of its kind in the UK, and hosts globally significant research expertise in Evolutionary biology and Behavioural ecology, alongside major strengths in Conservation biology and Ecology. We study a diverse range of model organisms, from social mammals and birds to reptiles, fish, insects and microbes, and use a wide array of modern methods to advance understanding in our fields.

Our research spans all major topics in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology, with particular strengths in:

  • Social Evolution
  • Cognitive and Cultural Evolution
  • Life-History Evolution and Ageing
  • Sexual Selection
  • Sensory Ecology
  • Migration Ecology
  • Microbial Evolutionary Ecology
  • Disease Ecology and Evolution
  • Evolutionary Genetics

How you'll learn

Taught modules

The taught components (see Course Content above) are delivered within the first five months of the academic year, and include:

  • Seminars
  • Workshops
  • Fieldwork
  • Group discussion
  • Independent study

There is considerable scope for you to direct your learning towards fields of particular interest, especially through your choice of research project. Research seminars will see you interacting with a diversity of top academics and getting to know about their ongoing research.

Research project

A major strength of our MSc course is the opportunity to conduct an in-depth research project embedded within a world-class research group. Our academics offer a great diversity of research projects spanning the full range of research fields represented here at the Centre, working with a wide variety of model systems either in the field or in the lab.

After the first five months of taught modules, your primary focus will switch to your research project. This structure allows you to build your core research skills prior to conducting your research project, and to use knowledge gained during the taught modules to inform your research project choice. It also means you can focus exclusively on your research project without distraction, and offers geographical flexibility during the research project phase (e.g. if you pursue a project involving international fieldwork).

Tutorial support

Each student is allocated a personal tutor who is available for advice and support throughout your studies. There is also a postgraduate tutor available to help with further guidance and advice.


Taught modules will be assessed through a variety of methods including oral presentations, written research reports, essays and discussions, during or upon completion of the modules. A significant proportion of the overall assessment is based on the research project and an associated literature review and oral presentation.

Read more


Our MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology programme is designed to prepare candidates for a career in post-graduate research. While the majority of our graduates go on to study for PhDs, the MSc provides an excellent grounding for a wide range of post-graduate destinations linked to front-line research. For examples of the diverse career destinations of our past graduates, you can browse our Graduate in Focus Series.

We are committed to providing you with personal support throughout your degree to ensure that when you leave us you feel informed, prepared, and well-equipped to reach your full potential in your future career.

Employer-valued skills this course develops

The core taught programme will develop strong skills across a range of current field, laboratory and statistical methods, with the depth and breadth of skills in your favoured discipline being determined in part by your chosen research project. You will also develop the strong transferable skills needed to advance your career, including quantitative analytical skills, scientific writing, public speaking, grant writing, and the professional use of social media.

Supporting your career

Being part of a large research-intensive department, with multiple extracurricular research seminars per week and frequent on-campus symposia and employability-focused seminars involving invited external stakeholders, will also ensure that you have outstanding networking opportunities during your time with us.

Careers services

Our careers teams at the Career Zone can help guide you through a wealth of information to match your skills and interests to a career that will suit you. Our staff work with regional, national and international employers to develop new work placement, project and graduate opportunities.

Graduate destinations

Below are some examples of the positions held by recent graduates from our Biosciences MSc courses. You will also find detailed examples of the career paths of our past graduates in our Graduate in Focus Series.

  • PhD Researcher
  • Field Research Leader
  • Research Technician
  • Research Assistant
  • Ecologist
  • Environmental Consultant
  • Conservation Scientist

Read more