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Subject Summary: Part IB Ecology

The course, run jointly by the Departments of Genetics, Plant Sciences, and Zoology, introduces a variety of approaches to the study of the relationships between plants, animals, and the environment. It begins with an investigation of the importance of humans in ecology, specifically studies of changes caused by humans and the role of conservation, and an overview of the world's biodiversity, its origin, and maintenance. This is followed by a critical exposition of the characteristics of selected freshwater, marine, and terrestrial systems. The dynamics of these systems on different scales of time and space are emphasised. The impacts of humans are considered particularly in the context of global climate change, fire and aerial pollution. Aspects of evolutionary ecology include how interactions between predators and prey influence co-evolution of adaptations and counter-adaptations, and community structure. The lectures on 'ecological genetics' considers arms races from a genetic perspective before discussing the behaviour of genes in populations and considering the evolution and maintenance of genetic variation using examples of conspicuous polymorphisms. The third term starts by considering Ecology across evolutionary timescales, and ends with 'Ecological dynamics', introducing general features of the dynamics of ecological systems at population and community levels. 

Students taking the course are expected to attend one of two ten day residential field courses during the Long Vacation between the first and second years. Projects, normally done during the field courses, will be examined. For students unable to attend a field course, alternative project work will be available during the year. 

Programme Specification: Part IB Ecology

This course is taught jointly by the Departments of Genetics, Plants Sciences and Zoology.


  1. to develop key ecological concepts and approaches;
  2. to introduce major ecosystems;
  3. to offer information and literature references to enable you to develop and defend a reasoned position on some controversial issues;
  4. to introduce habitats, organisms, approaches and the methodology of ecological research on the field course and through project work.

Learning outcomes

  1. to be aware of the scope of ecology and able to select areas for further study;
  2. to be alert to the complexity of ecological systems and able to address controversial issues in a rational way;
  3. to be able to plan and carry out fieldwork in ecological research, environmental monitoring or expedition projects;
  4. to understand the interface between ecology and environment.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures, supervisions, a field course and presentations of project results.


Assessment for this course is through

  • two unseen written examinations (for aims 1-3 and learning outcomes 1, 2 and 4);
  • one report on independent project work carried out either on the field course or during the academic year (for aims 1, 3 and 4 and learning outcomes 1, 3 and 4)

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None.

Recommended: NST Part IA Evolution and Behaviour; NST Part IA Physiology of Organisms; A Level Biology.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.