Ecological considerations factor among the key concerns facing our planet today. The decline of bee populations, for example, poses a real threat to agricultural crop yields and the health of flowering plants, and groundbreaking research at Royal Holloway, University of London is helping to uncover the reasons behind this crisis.
Studying Ecology and Conservation at Royal Holloway will teach you the fundamental principles of how plants and animals interact with each other and the wider environment, applying both theoretical and practical tools to understand diverse aspects of ecology including both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, behavioural ecology and conservation.
The first year of Ecology and Conservation provides a strong foundation in plant, animal and ecosystem topics, including vertebrate evolution and diversity, plant evolution, form and function, cell biology, genetics and biomes and ecosystems. Acquiring skills in biological data analysis and practical field ecology form a key part of the second year, alongside studies in evolution, invertebrate biology, and insects, plants and fungi. You can also choose to study animal behaviour, microbiology, or to attend the residential field course on marine biology. The final year includes the study of population and community ecology, and marine ecology and biodiversity. There are options to study conservation biology, evolutionary ecology, entomology, extreme animal physiology, circadian biology, as well as to take part in the overseas field course that examines Mediterranean conservation and ecology. This flexible programme allows you to tailor your learning in years 2 and 3, to suit your own interests.
Our biodiverse campus is in easy reach of sites of special scientific interest including Windsor Great Park, Box Hill and Chobham Common, providing the opportunity for rewarding field work and independent study. You will gain practical experience across all three years of the degree, with many laboratory-based or field-based practicals in years 1 and 2, and an individual research project in year 3. The project can involve laboratory, field, or computer-based approaches, but whichever project you choose, you will join our renowned research culture. The School of Biological Sciences was ranked 25th in the UK for influential research output by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014.
- Join a biodiverse campus in reach of sites of special scientific interest including Windsor Great Park, Box Hill and Chobham Common.
- Make use of first-class facilities including marine and freshwater aquaria, plant and animal cell culture facilities and glasshouses.
- Take part in world-class research led by renowned academics, with 76% of our Biological Sciences research ranked world-leading and internationally excellent.
- Join a close-knit and supportive learning community with a high staff-to- student ratio.
- Gain invaluable transferable skills to take into the workplace, including lab and fieldwork experience, numerical skills and communication skills.
- Graduate with a Royal Society of Biology accredited degree.
Becoming a Bioscientist
In this module you will develop an understanding of key scientific concepts and effective science communication. You will learn how to process and critique different forms of information, and how to communicate science to both scientific and non-scientific audiences using diverse media, forms and methods. You will also examine ethical issues surrounding research and intervention.
Cell Biology and Evolution
In this module you will develop an understanding of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell biology and the key functions of these structures and organelles. You will look at the origin of life and the principles of natural selection and evolution. You will also learn the practical technique involved in microscopy, including fixation techniques for the analysis of cell ultrastructure and aseptic techniques for bacterial culture.
In this module you will develop an understanding of genes and their behaviour in individuals organisms, in populations, and at the molecular level within the cell. You will look cellular genetics with respect to mitosis, meiosis, inheritance and recombination, and consider the fundamentals of gene expression, its control, and DNA replication. You will examine genome organisation, transcription, and translation, and gain practical experience of using techniques in microscopy, including slide preparation for the observation of chromosomes.
Ecology and Conservation
In this module you will develop an understanding of the key concepts of ecology and conservation, working up from organisms to populations and their interactions, through to communities and ecosystems. You will look at ecological patterns and processes and consider the fundamental interactions between species and their abiotic environment. You will also gain practical experience in using ecological sampling techniques, carrying out biostatistical analyses and experimental design.
Green World - Plant Evolution, Form and Function
In this module you will develop an understanding of the diversity and structure plants and fungi and how these can be used to reconstruct evoluntionary history. You will look at the structure of the main Kingdoms of eukaryotes, examining their diversity and the relationships between the life-cycles of higher plants and fungi, and their single-cell or water-tied ancestors. You will consider the form, development and function, including photosynthesis, of higher plants, and the explore the relevance of plants to humans. You will gain practical experience in handling and observing preserved and live specimens, preparation of taxonomic keys, drawing, data analysis, interpretation and presentation.
Biology in a Changing World
In this module you will develop an understanding of how biological and ecological principles can help develop sustainable solutions to the problems encountered in the 21st Century. You will look at how ecological principles can be used to tackle conservation challenges, and consider the importance of ongoing management of ecosytems which have been altered by humans. You will gain practical experience in using ecological sampling technniques and learn how to apply and interpret elementary statistical tests.
Vertebrate Evolution and Diversity
In this module you will develop an understanding of origins of the vertebrate classes and their evolutionary history. You will look at functional aspects of the key morphological and physiological adaptations of vertebrates to life in water, on land and in the air. You will examine the processes of evolution, phylogeny, physiology and biomechanics of vertebrates, and consider the general anatomical organisation of chordates and vertebrates.
Biomes and Ecosystems
In this module you will develop an understanding of global biomes and ecosystems as well as biogeochemical cycles and energy flow through them. You will look at the key features of UK ecosystems and consider current ecological issues. You will examine the major principles of ecological science and gain practical experience in using sampling techniques, biostatistical analyses and experiemental design. You will also analyse variation in climate around the globe, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystsems, ecosystem services and habitat conservation.
Invertebrate Biology - Structure, Behaviour and Evolution
In this module you will develop an understanding of invertebrate phyla, looking at their structure, diversity, levels of complexity, life styles, and evolutionary relationships. You will primarily examine body-plans and how structure relates to behaviour, but also consider invertebrate diversity and their ecological importance. You will learn to stain, mount, and interpret microscopic specimens and enhance your skills in scientific illustration, microscope use, identification and animal handling.
Plant Life - From Genes to Environment
In this module you will develop an understanding of the life cycle of flowering plants, considering their evolution, developmental and functional biology. You will examine the role and biology of meristems in the structure and building of a plant muticellular body, and the role and mode of action of plant hormones in coordinating development. You will also consider a range of environmental and biotic factors affecting plants, including light, time of day, temperature, drought, and other organisms, and how plants respond to the challenges they pose.
Insects, Plants and Fungi - Ecology and Applications
In this module you will develop an understanding of the effects of herbivorous insects on plants and the ways in which plants defend themselves against attack. You will consider how insects can be beneficial to plants, examining their role in pollination, and how fungi mediate interactions between insects and their hosts, including pathogens, endophytes and mycorrhizas.
Practical Field Ecology
In this module you will develop an understanding of how to design and analyse ecological experiments. You will perform simple investigations into several different taxonomic groups such as mammals, invertebrates and plants, and consider the difficulties of designing experiments in the field, compared to controlled conditions. You will gain experience with techniques such as field sampling, identification using keys, and quantitative population estimation, as you carry out fieldwork in and around the College campus, with some daily excursions.
Biological Data Analysis and Interpretation
In this module you will develop an understanding of the use of statistical methods in biological sciences. You will examine how questions in biology can be answered using quantitative methods, looking at key concepts of statistical sampling and experimental design. You will consider how to select appropriate tests, how to apply them, and identify what can be deduced from them.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how organisms have changed through time. You will look at the historical origins of the modern concept of evolution, examinining the evidence for it and the processes that have shaped faunas and floras. You will consider Darwinism and its development, the origin and maintenance of variation, and adaptation and selection. You will analyse how evolution can be studied using phylogenetic methods and the mechanisms of speciation, with a focus on human evolution.
Individual Research Project
You will carry out an individual laboratory or theoretical investigation, supervised by an appropriate member of staff, who will provide guidance throughout. You will apply the knowledge and skills learned throughout your studies, and learn to organise data in a logical, presentable and persuasive way. You will produce a report, around 8,000 words in length, and will deliver an oral presentation with a summary of your findings.
In this module you will develop and understanding of the major threats to biodiversity, including habitat loss and fragmentation, alien species, global climate change, intensive agriculture, pollution, and over-harvesting. You will look at the population and ecological processes that lead to species and habitat decline, and assess how conservation biology can be applied to redress this. You will also examine current areas of research in conservation biology, their ethical implications, and agri-environmental management plans.
Population and Community Ecology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the principles of population and community ecology, focussing on the forces which structure communities of animals and plants. You will look at population growth, inter- and intra-specific competition, trophic relations and the factors which regulate populations, and will examine the ecological processes that contribute to community organisation, such as food web structure, body size, succession and natural disturbances. You will also consider the role of population and community ecology in the maintenance of biodiversity.
Climate Change - Plants and the Environment
In this module you will develop an understanding of the effects of climate change on the interaction between plants and the environment. You will critically evaluate the application of novel technologies to crop improvement and assess the relationship between growth and responses to the environment. You will also consider issues surrounding human uses of plants and conservation.
In addition to these mandatory course units there are a number of optional course units available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course units that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new units may be offered or existing units may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.
Only core modules are taken
In this module you will develop an understanding of some of the key concepts in microbiology, including the study of bacteria, viruses, and eukaryotic microbes. You will look at how microbes are distinguished and classified, and discuss bacterial growth and differentiation. You will examine the importance of microorganisms in health and disease, including human welfare issues such as opportunistic infections and the role of microorganisms in cancer.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the causation, development, function and evolution of animal behaviour, assessing the variety of behaviour occurring across the range of animal taxa and in different ecological situations. You will examine the major theories that seek to explain animal behaviour, such as kin selection, optimal foraging and game theory. You will look at the main methods used to study behaviour, including observation, experiment and the comparative approach, and consider how they can be applied to the study of different types of behavioural questions.
Applications of Molecular Genetics in Biology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the molecular tools and techniques currently available to investigate the genetic diversity of a range of organisms. You will examine how genetically modified organisms can be produced via a number of methodologies, and will consider their application in areas such as crop improvement, pest management, and vaccine development. You will also look at how molecular genetics has improved our understanding of human inherited diseases, and led to development of human gene therapies.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the physical and chemical characteristics of the marine environment and their influence on marine organisms. You will look at of a broad range of marine taxa, in particular invertebrates, but also vertebrates and algae, sampled alive from their natural habitats. You will carry out intertidal sampling (rocky and sandy shores) and sampling from a research vessel (plankton and subtidal benthos), gaining experience of collecting and identifying a range of littoral organisms. You will consider behavioural, ecological and physiological aspects, morphological adaptations, systematic relationships and also the economic significance of selected groups.
Special Study - Dissertation
You will carry out a literature research project on a biological or biochemical topic of your choice, producing a written report around 7,500 words in length. You will critically evaluate recent scientific literature on your chosen topic, highlighting how data has been used to generate and test hypotheses.
Biology of Parasitic Diseases
In this module you will develop an understanding of the principles of parasitism and the protective mechanisms used by immuno-competent hosts to limit the spread of infection. You will look at the biological strategies used by a range of unicellular and multicellular organisms to colonise host causing disease in human and non-human hosts. You will consider studies on the pathology and the cellular immunity elicited by various parasites, and the immune evasion strategies used by widely distributed human parasites to protect themselves from immune attack. You will also address the principles and prospects of anti-parasitic vaccination in the 21stCentury.
Entomology - Pure and Applied
In this module you will develop an understanding of insect biology, addressing aspects of their physiology and biology. You will look at why insects are the most numerous animals on the planet and examine the practical applications of entomology. You will assess modern methods of crop production and pest control and analyse the conservational importance of beneficial insects such as pollinators and saproxylic (dead wood-feeding) species, considering reasons for their decline.
Mediterranean Conservation and Ecology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the ecology of the Aljezur region of Portugal, and the conservation threats presented by tourism, infrastructure development and agricultural change. You will look at conservation ecology in marine, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, with a focus on key species and habitats. You will carry out practical work, including an ecological risk assessment for coastal ecosystems, invertebrate sampling in native cork forest, bird monitoring, river-based surveys for invasive crayfish and otters, marine surveys, pollinator surveys on invasive plants, and kayak-based surveys for aquatic infauna.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how ecologists investigate the behaviour of animals, looking at recent advances in behavioural ecology research. You will analyse the functional and evolutionary hypotheses that seek to explain how animals find and use key resources, such as food, breeding territories and mates, and consider how simple models, such as game theory, can be used to test these.
Marine Ecology and Biodiversity
In this module you will develop an understanding of the diversity habitats in the marine environment and the range of responses seen in marine biota. You will look at the diversity of organisms, considering the key processes operating in coral reefs, the deep ocean and hydrothermal vent systems. You will consider the behaviour and conservation of marine species, the impact of marine pollution and climate change on marine biodiversity, and examine the adaptation of mammals to marine life.
Evolutionary Ecology of Vertebrates
In this module you will develop an understanding of the historical background of major questions in evolutionary ecology, focussing on studies using vertebrate systems. You will look at the interactions between and within species and consider the evolutionary effects of competitors, mutualists, predators, prey and pathogens. You will examine specific topics such as life-history theory, evolutionary medicine, phenotypic plasticity, ecological specification and the evolution of sex.
Extreme Animal Physiology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the physiological mechanisms underpinning adaptation to hostile enivornmental conditions such as anoxia, high hydrostatic pressure and extreme temperatures. You will look at how animals perform extreme feats such as high-speed running, flying, and swimming, perform long-distance migrations, and enter periods of hibernation and torpor. You will also consider how physiology, morphology and anatomy combine to allow survival in harsh environments and make extreme behaviours possible.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the variety of rhythms in nature and their importance. You will look at the rhythms throughout biology, in microbes, plants and animals, and consider the impact of the internal circadian clock on behaviour, physiology, environmental responses and wider implications for fitness. You will examine how the clock interacts with environmental signals, how the clock can be set to the right time, how the clock can moderate environmental responses, and how the clock can allow measurement of daylength for the timing of annual events.
Seed Biology - Molecular and Conservation Biology to Industrial Applications
In this module you will develop an understanding of the importance of seeds and fruits for food chain security, the seed industry, and ecosystem conservation. You will look at the principles and importance of seed banking and the seed conservation work at Kew's Millenium Seed Bank to mitigate against climate change. You will examine the developmental and biochemical processes of seed storage reserve deposition, germination and reserve mobilisation, including the environmental control of seed germination. You will analyse the key advantages of the seed habit, considering the morphological diversity of modern seeds and fruits which have evolved.