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Study information

Behavioural Ecology

Module titleBehavioural Ecology
Module codeBIO2430
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Jeremy Field (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

How does natural selection shape the behaviour, morphology and life histories that we observe in animals in their natural environments? During this module you will explore the answer to this question. You will study the evolution of mating systems and sexual conflict, animal societies, predator-prey interactions, foraging and evolutionary arms races, and tackle the fascinating challenges of human evolution. You will have the opportunity to further expand on theory during practical classes that focus on animal personalities and the evolution of cooperation and cognition.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to develop and expand your understanding of the principles introduced in Introduction to Evolution and Behavioural Ecology by investigating the concepts of behaviour and life history in an evolutionary context. The module will thus focus on animals in natural environments as well as experimental systems to build on your understanding of why animals behave in the way they do and the evolutionary forces acting on animal life history and behaviour.

The module will enhance employability by providing training in the measurement and analysis of animal behaviour, statistical methods, mathematical modelling, and cutting-edge evolutionary thinking.

The module is taught by internationally-recognised research scientists who are all leaders in their field. These scientists will incorporate information on the latest research developments together with a broad overview of foundational research in behavioural ecology.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain the evolution of behaviour and recognise its main theoretical cornerstones
  • 2. Discuss the evolution of social interaction, competition and cooperation
  • 3. Describe the behavioural ecology of decision-making in the context of the life history
  • 4. Illustrate knowledge and understanding in evolution

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 6. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 7. Identify and implement, with guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing specific research problems in biosciences
  • 8. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 9. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 11. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 12. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 13. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills, and apply own evaluation criteria
  • 14. Reflect effectively on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

The module will be delivered using a hybrid approach of pre-recorded lectures and face-to-face discussions and practicals. Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • evolution, ecology, and behaviour
  • competing for resources
  • predators and prey
  • social behaviour
  • mating and parental care
  • sexual and family conflict
  • life history
  • cognitive and cultural evolution

Practical sessions will reinforce topics covered in lectures, emphasising the nature of scientific enquiry.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching10Lectures/Discussions including material on evolution of behaviour, mating systems, altruism, predator-prey interactions and arms races
Scheduled learning and teaching8Online recorded lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching7Laboratory practicals, focusing on foraging behaviour and the evolution of cooperation
Guided independent study125Additional reading, research and preparation for the laboratory report, timetabled sessions and essay examination

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Problems and short answer questions during the discussions and practical sessions; activities associated with the online lecturesOngoing throughout the module1-14Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay examination602 hours1-12Written
Laboratory report401500 words1-12Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examination (2 hours)1-12August reassessment period
Laboratory reportLaboratory report (1500 words)1-12August reassessment period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further assessment. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Davies, N.B., Krebs, J. and West, S.A. 2012. An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, 4th Edition. Wiley-Blackwell
  • Alcock, J. 2009. Animal Behavior. 9th Edition. Sinauer Associates

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Evolution, ecology, animal behaviour, altruism, coevolution, foraging behaviour, cooperation and life histories

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO1423 Skills and Careers or BIO1424 Introduction to Evolution

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date