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Study information

African Behavioural Ecology Field Course

Module titleAfrican Behavioural Ecology Field Course
Module codeBIOM4019
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Michael Cant (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Studying animal behaviour in the wild is essential if we are to understand how natural selection has yielded the stunning diversity of behaviour that we see in nature. On this field course you will have an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of pioneering evolutionary biologists, visit their field sites, observe their study species, and discuss their ground-breaking research. At beautiful locations in Kenya’s network of National Parks and Reserves 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. Guided and tutored by our experienced academic staff, you will design a research project to investigate the evolution of behavioural strategies in the wild. You will learn how to develop hypotheses, make predictions, collect and analyse data, and interpret their findings in order to explain behavioural strategies. 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 will be further strengthened by discussions with staff, student-led seminars and presentations. After returning to the UK, you will perform a statistical analysis of data collected during the trip, create a poster presentation sharing the results and conclusions of this work, and write a short review of a topic related to your field project.

Module aims - intentions of the module

To develop scientific knowledge and understanding within the field of behavioural ecology, while based in a developing tropical country observing large animal behaviour in a natural ecological setting. Specifically:

  • Introduction to a range of Afro-tropical habitats, from savannahs and soda lakes to the alpine zone
  • Group observation, data collection and data synthesis in a National Park setting
  • The conception, design and execution of a behavioural ecology research project in the field
  • Intimate awareness, through your own observations, of the outstanding wildlife value of natural habitats in Africa

Due to the fact that this is a field-based unit in remote environments it may present a challenge for students with impaired physical abilities; such students wishing to choose this module should seek advice from the module co-ordinator.

Through attending the field course, you will further develop the following academic and professional skills: problem solving (linking theory to observations, developing your own ideas with confidence, showing entrepreneurial awareness, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems), managing structure (identifying key demands of the task, setting clearly defined goals, responding flexibly to changing priorities), time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group), collaboration (respecting the views and values of others, taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work, maintaining group cohesiveness and purpose), and audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the importance and relevance of your views, responding positively and effectively to questions).

The module content is updated every year to explore topical research areas, some of which are being carried out in the department, and some of which are of global relevance. You will learn about the tools required to study such problems, and explore how such science can solve issues of importance to society.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Explain the problems associated with field behavioural work in a tropical country
  • 2. Illustrate the diversity of animal and plant life in the tropics and the differences between tropical and temperate ecology
  • 3. Describe the practical and theoretical issues surrounding animal behaviour and ecology, and apply theory to practical problems in the field

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding in ecology and animal behaviour
  • 5. Describe in detail essential facts and theory in a subdiscipline of the biosciences
  • 6. Apply knowledge to solving practical problems in field behavioural ecology
  • 7. With limited guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis and enquiry within the biosciences

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 8. Communicate ideas effectively and professionally by written, oral and visual means
  • 9. Study autonomously and undertake projects with minimum guidance
  • 10. Select and properly manage information drawn from books, journals, and the internet
  • 11. Interact effectively in a group

Syllabus plan

A safari-style field course will take place in Africa in the 2nd half of January. The 2-week course will operate from tented campsites and cabins within National Parks. Local staff will look after transport and camp facilities, with leadership and tutoring by CEC staff. Basic training in behavioural and ecological monitoring and 5-7 day research projects will be conducted from one of the safari locations.

Poster session held approximately 2 weeks after return.

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 112Field-based tutoring in taxonomy, ecology, biogeography, behaviour and evolution. Field-based tutoring in behavioural monitoring and research project development and execution. Daily reviews of observations and project work
Guided independent study188Additional reading, research and preparation for module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions throughout the field courseOngoing throughout the module1-10Oral

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
Behavioural ecology factsheet202 sides of A41-11Written
Post-field course poster30Poster1-11Written
Critical synthesis report502000 words1-11Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Behavioural ecology factsheetBehavioural ecology factsheet1-11Referral/deferral period
Post-field course posterPost-field course poster1-11Referral/deferral period
Critical synthesis reportCritical synthesis report1-11Referral/deferral 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. On deferral the continual assessment will be re-assessed by a 4000-word critical essay. 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 50%) you will be required to submit a further post-field course poster. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the mark and will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Ulfstrand S (2002). Savannah Lives: animal life and human evolution in Africa. Oxford University Press
  • Kingdon J (1997). The Kingdon field guide to African mammals. Academic Press
  • Krebs JR & Davies NB (1993). Intro to behavioural ecology (3rd Edition). Blackwell Science Publications
  • Krebs JR & Davies NB (1997). Behavioural ecology: an evolutionary approach (4th Edition). Blackwell Science Publications
  • Martin P & Bateson P (2007). Measuring behaviour: an Introductory Guide (3rd Edition). Cambridge University Press

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources


Key words search

Africa, Behavioural Ecology, Field Course, Taxonomy, Ecology, Evolution, Behavioural Monitoring, Research, Animal Behaviour, Tropical Ecology

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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