ENVU3EC: An Introduction to Ecology

CONTRIBUTORS: Dr Andre GilburnDr Nils BunnefeldPaul LintottDr Nigel Wilby

Course Objectives

  • To provide an overview of the main areas of ecological research from individual organisms to complete landscapes.
  • To teach students how to measure population size and calculate biodiversity indices.
  • To teach students the names of various common animals and plants found on campus.

Learning Outcomes

  • An understanding of the basic principles of behavioural, organismal, population, community, ecosystem ecology and global patterns of biodiversity.
  • An understanding of how to measure population size using a variety of techniques and an ability to calculate two different biodiversity indices and apply them to a real situation.
  • An understanding of how interactions between species can determine population size and abundance.
  • An understanding of how interactions amongst species, or between species and their environment, lead to patterns in community structure.
  • An ability to be able to identify a number of animals and plants found on campus.
  • An understanding of how forest age and dynamics can affect stand structure and ultimately carbon storage.
  • Answer unseen questions on the module content in a time-limited context.


  • None

Teaching Programme

24 x 1 hour lectures, 3 per week

3 prescribed practical classes of 3 hours duration

1 prescribed online ID quiz task

If you fail to complete two or more of the four prescribed elements of the module your mark will be capped at a 3C.

Lectures (24)

Lectures will take place on Mondays at 14:00, Tuesdays at 9:00 and again at 17:00. All lectures will take place in Lecture Theatre A6. The FIRST LECTURE will take place on Monday 9th September at 14:00 in Lecture Theatre A6.

The following lecture slots will be used

9/9 – 2pm (AG); 10/9 – 9am (AG); 10/9 – 5pm (AG); 16/9 – 2pm (AG); 17/9 – 9am (AG); 17/9 – 5pm (AG); 23/9 – 2pm (AG); 24/9 – 9am (AG); 30/9 – 2pm (PL); 1/10 – 9am (PL); 1/10 – 5pm (NB); 7/10 – 2pm (NB); 8/10 – 9am (NB); 8/10 – 5pm (NB); 14/10 – 2pm (NW); 15/10 – 5pm (NW); 28/10 – 2pm (NW); 29/10 – 5pm (NW); 4/11 – 2pm (NW); 5/11 – 9am (DD); 5/11 – 5pm (NW); 11/11 – 2pm (DD); 12/11 – 9am (DD); 18/11 – 2pm (DD).

Lecture Topics

Organismal, Population and Behavioural Ecology (Dr Andre Gilburn – 8 lectures): These lectures will introduce the scope of ecology and it’s fundamental relationship with evolution and discuss how conditions and access to resources shape the adaption of organisms to their environment. They will also discuss factors that shape the life history of organisms, investigate patterns of birth and death, population growth and factors affecting the distribution and abundance of populations and species. Finally this section of the course will provide an introduction to behavioural ecology by investigating the evolution of animal behaviour.

Lectures: Ecology and Its Domain, Conditions, Resources, Life and Death, Evolution of Life Histories, Intraspecific Competition, Population Growth, Behavioural Ecology

Interactions between Species (Dr. Nils Bunnefeld and Paul Lintott – 6 lectures): These lectures will examine how interactions between species influence their ecology and abundance. Species with overlapping niches may compete, although competition is frequently asymmetrical, affecting one species more than the other. In contrast, predatory interactions benefit one species and harm the other, leading to complex interactions at the population level and arms races over evolutionary time. Finally, mutualistic interactions benefit both species, and have led to some remarkably successful partnerships (e.g. cows, lichens, legumes, corals)   

Lectures: Interspecific competition, Competitive exclusion and niche partitioning, Types of predators, Population Dynamics, Harvesting and Conservation, Mutualisms

Communities, Ecosystems and Global Patterns of Biodiversity (Dr. Nigel Willby – 6 lectures and Dr. Daisy Dent – 4 lectures). Communities are found where populations of different species overlap. These lectures will examine basic controls on communities caused by primary production and the importance of competition and predation in driving communities. They will also consider how communities vary over time and space, the important role of disturbance from natural and artificial sources and how all these factors contribute to predictable patterns in biodiversity at larger scales.

Lectures: Primary production and secondary consumption, Competition and community structure, Trophic cascades and predation, Temporal and spatial patterns in communities, Disturbance and community structure, Island biogeography and global patterns in diversity, Introductory forest ecology


Practical classes will take place in 2B147 on Wednesdays (morning, 9h-12h, or afternoon, 14h-17h). You will be required to attend only one session for each practical. You will need to sign up for your practical sessions in advance using Succeed. We will announce the availability of these sign-up sheets in the lectures and on Succeed. Please bring outdoor clothes and footwear and calculators with you when you attend the practicals.

1)         Measuring Population Size and Calculating Biodiversity Indices. (18/9 AG).

2)         Predator behaviour and herding in prey. (9/10 PL)

3)         Forest ecology: Self-thinning and above-ground biomass estimation. (13/11 DD)

 The practicals will be assessed and the reports will each contribute a total of 15% to your final module grade. Attendance is prescribed for both practicals and material from the practicals can be covered in the final exam. The first practical is required for you to achieve the learning outcome of being able to calculate biodiversity indices and apply them to a real ecological issue. The second practical is essential to achieve the learning outcome of understanding interactions between species. The third outcome achieves the learning outcome of understanding the relationship between forest dynamics and stand structure. Deadlines for practical submission will be announced during the practicals. Coursework will be assessed and returned to students 3-weeks from the submission date.

Online ID Quiz

The quiz will account for 10% of your final mark. You will be asked to use online keys to ID various organisms that occur on the university campus. This is a prescribed part of the module that enables you to achieve the learning outcome of being able to identify some common animals and plants found on campus.


There will be a module examination at the end of semester. It will consist of multiple choice and short answer questions.


Course work 55% (3 practical reports 15% each, online quiz 10%). Exam 45%.

Reading List

Ecology: Concepts and Applications. Molles 5th Edition.
Supplementary reading materials will be suggested during lectures or posted on Succeed.

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