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Study information

Molecular Ecology

Module titleMolecular Ecology
Module codeBIO2446
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Ben Raymond (Convenor)

Professor Alastair Wilson (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Genetic methods are central to biology in the 21st century, but how can we use these technologies to address ecological and evolutionary questions in the field? Genetic diversity within species is fundamental to conservation but how can we study diversity and understand the ecological and genetics and processes that drive the maintenance of diversity in natural populations? These questions (and related ones) will be answered in a series of lectures that cover the topic of molecular ecology – which is the application of molecular, population genetic, and increasingly genomic tools to address ecological questions and solve ecological problems. The module will feature lectures from current CEC staff and students that are actively conducting organismal research on wild populations using genetic methods. You will learn about practical methods illustrated by diverse empirical examples, and also gain a grounding in the genetic theory needed to interpret molecular data. You will put your lessons into practice through a series of activities taking you through a project – from field samples to molecular work in the laboratory, to analysing the data to test hypotheses.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to develop and expand your understanding of the principles introduced in BIO1411 (Genetics) by considering how molecular genetic tools and techniques are used in ecology, evolution and conservation biology. It will cover practical techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), genotyping, microsatellites, DNA barcoding, and next generation sequencing, as well as the population genetic theory needed to help us interpret data. There will be a strong emphasis on how these techniques can be used to address whole organism questions across diverse topics – including forensics, wildlife management, investigating animal mating systems and resolving evolutionary relationships. This module will provide experience in some of these techniques, as well as covering the underlying population genetic principles needed to translate molecular information into biological insight in the field.  


Since genetic questions play a key role in all facets of biology, the practical knowledge and skills acquired by taking this module are relevant to many areas of employment such as conservation, wildlife management, agriculture, medicine, livestock production, forensics and biological research. By taking part in the laboratory work you will learn modern genetic techniques as well as general skills in observation, team work, time management, data analysis and critical thinking which are key to careers in fundamental and applied sciences.


The module content is updated every year to explore topical research areas, such as the use of e-DNA in conservation biology and the application of Rad-Seq methods to explore selection and population divergence in the field. Some of these topical tools include methods being carried out in the discipline, while others are of general advances in the discipline. You will learn about the tools required to study such problems and explore how such science can inform policy and practice.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Discuss the different genetic techniques that can be used to address ecological and evolutionary questions in wild populations
  • 2. Explain the implications of genetic variation within and between populations for conservation and management
  • 3. Outline the ways in which genetics is rapidly changing our understanding of behavioural and ecological processes
  • 4. Develop knowledge, skills and understanding of how genetic data are generated, analysed and interpreted

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

Lectures will include topics such as:


  • Molecular tools used by ecologists and zoologists (PCR, microsatellites, SNPs, Sanger sequencing and next generation sequencing)
  • The use of sequence data to reconstruct phylogenies and test evolutionary or ecological hypotheses
  • Use of molecular barcoding techniques in conservation, management and forensics
  • Population genetics (migration, genetic drift, and non-random mating as mechanisms of evolution)
  • The evolutionary genetics of managed populations: local adaptation; extinction risk; measuring natural selection

The module will be delivered using a hybrid approach of pre-recorded lectures and face-to-face discussions, workshops and practicals


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 Teaching activities13Lectures and discussions covering material on molecular techniques, population genetics and ecological applications
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities12Laboratory practicals including , DNA work in the wet lab and statistical analysis in the computing lab
Guided independent study113Additional reading and research in preparation for the pre-laboratory report, laboratory report and examination assessments
Guided independent study12Watching of pre-recorded mini-lectures in advance of live lectures and discussions

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the module 1-14Oral
Pre-laboratory report1 page outline/essay plan 1-12Feedback sheet

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
Exam602 hours1-12Written via tutor
Laboratory report402,000 words1-12Feedback sheet

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExamExam1-12August reassessment period
Laboratory reportLaboratory report1-12August 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 laboratory report is not deferrable because of its practical nature. 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 submit 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

  • Conner, J.K. and D.L. Hartl. 2004. A primer of Ecological Genetics. Sinauer Associates
  • Frankham, R, Ballou, J.D., Briscoe, DA, McInnes, KH 2010.  An introduction to conservation genetics 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press.

Additional reading:

  • Höglund, J. Evolutionary Conservation Genetics. 2009. OUP.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Evolution, conservation genetics, molecular ecology, forensics, genetics, genotype, sequencing

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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