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Subject Summary: Ecology, Evolution & Conservation

This course is run jointly by the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology. It introduces a variety of approaches to study the relationships between plants, animals, and the environment. It begins and ends with investigations from different (biogeographic and palaeoecological) perspectives into the importance of humans in ecology, specifically considering our impacts on the planet, from our origin as a species to our current major influences on Earth’s systems, including global climate change and biodiversity loss. The course introduces and explains the dynamic processes that operate to regulate species populations and structure ecological communities. It introduces the major terrestrial and marine ecosystems, explaining how their distributions are shaped by large-scale patterns of climate, abiotic conditions and species interactions. The dynamics of these systems on different scales of time and space are emphasised, including a deep dive into the role of plants in biogeochemical cycles. The interface between evolution and ecology is demystified, with detailed consideration of how evolutionary and ecological processes interact and influence one another. The course covers the structure and functioning of ecosystems, how biodiversity is measured, how wild populations and entire ecosystems are managed. It looks at the key role of museum and herbarium collections in understanding long-term environmental change and provides an introduction to the implications of global environmental change for human health and well-being. 

The course is exceptional in providing the opportunity for students to undertake their own cutting-edge research, through extended project work (in place of routine class practicals). Students taking the course are strongly encouraged to attend the ten day residential field course at Juniper Hall in Surrey, during the Long Vacation between the first and second years. Projects, researched either during the field course or during Michaelmas Term, will be examined. EEC projects provide very helpful preparation for Part II. 

Programme Specification: Part IB Ecology, Evolution & Conservation

This course is taught jointly by the Departments of Plant 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 students to develop and defend a reasoned position on current issues in avolution, ecology and conservation;
  4. to introduce habitats, organisms, approaches and the methodology of ecological research on the field course and through project work.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. describe the main ecosystems on Earth and interpret their distributions;
  2. explain how ecosystems are structured, and how they function, using clearly defined scientific terminology;
  3. define the main ecological and evolutionary processes, including succession, dispersal, speciation, extinction and drift, and explain how these processes operate to structure ecosystems;
  4. construct rational, evidence-based arguments to address controversial issues about the interaction between humans and the environment, such as large-scale biodiversity loss, invasive species and climate change;
  5. design and carry out hypothesis-driven ecological research, including statistical analysis using R;
  6. present ecological findings and arguments to colleagues, in an engaging and effective manner.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures, supervisions, field excursions, an optional field course and presentations of project results.


Assessment for this course is through

  • two unseen written examinations (for aims 1-3 and learning outcomes 1-4);
  • 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 5 and 6)

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None.

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

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Website pages.