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.
The Diversity of Life
In this module you will develop an understanding of the five Kingdoms of living organisms. You will look at the basic principles of evolution and natural selection and why these are important for zoological and botantical classification. You will examine the links between functional anatomy and evolutionary development, and assess broader concepts of biodiversity. You will learn techniques in the handling and observation of preserved and live specimens, preparation of taxonomic keys, drawing, data analysis and presentation.
Ecology - Animal Behaviour to Environmental Conservation
In this module you will develop an understanding of the principles of ecology and conservation, and examine how these influence animal behaviour. You will look at how organisms adapt to key UK habitats, and the challenges of living in such environments. You will also assess the methods used for studying ecological systems, becoming familiar with common sampling techniques and how to apply and interpret common statistical tests.
Living Systems - Animal and Plant Physiology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the fundamental physiological processes required for communication, obtaining and distributing nutrients, and maintaining the internal environment within multicellular organisms. You will look at how changes in internal and external environments are assessed by animals and plants, and examine the ways in which plants and animals obtain oxygen, carbon dioxide, water and energy, and rid themselves of waste materials. You will also consider the key properties of organ systems which support mobility.
Cell Biology and Genetics
In this module you will develop an understanding of the basic features of microbes and the diversity of microorganisms. You will look at the subcellular features of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, examining the key functions of these structures and organelles. You will consider celluar genetics with respect to mitosis, meiosis, inheritance and recombination, and the fundamentals of genome organisation, transcription and translation. You will also learn practical techniques in microscopy, including slide prepration for the observation of chromosomes, and fixation techniques for the analysis of cell ultrastructure.
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 organism, 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.
Population and Community Ecology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the principles of population and community ecology, focussing on the forcs 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.
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.
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 reponses to the environment. You will also consider issues surrounding human uses of plants and conservation.
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 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 moudle you will develop an understanding of the physical and chemical characteristics of the marine environmental 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.
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 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.
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 will analyse the conservational importance of beneficial insects such as pollinators and saproxylic (dead wood feeding) species, considering reasons for their decline.
Mediterranean Island Conservation and Ecology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the ecology of the Alentejo 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.
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 germinsation. You will analyse the key advantages of the seed habit, considering the morphological diversity of modern seeds and fruits which have evolved.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how species and biological communities have evolved in response to changing geographies. You will look at the fragility of the world's biota in the face of modern anthropogenic change, and examine the drivers and agents of continuing ecosystem degradation. You will also consider the approaches and methodologies for the protection of endangered species.
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.
Each year you take module worth a total of 120 credits. Most module are worth 15 credits; in the final year, your Individual Research Project is worth 30 credits.
You will attend a mixture of lectures, seminars and small-group tutorials, with class sizes that range from 6 students to 180 students. Practical classes are a major part of all first and second year module and include experiments that are integral to the subject, helping to familarise you with material and augment your understanding of key topics. These are either laboratory-based or field-based with laboratory follow-up. In your third year, you will complete an individual research project supervised by one of our academics, which may lead to you contributing to a published scientific paper. The individual research project is assessed on the basis of a written report, supervisor in-course assessment and an oral presentation.
You will be assigned a personal tutor who will provide support, guidance and advice throughout the three years of your degree programme. You will also have access to the comprehensive e-learning facility Moodle, which features lecture handouts and other supporting materials including lecture slides, self-test quizzes, relevant video clips and scientific papers.
During your first and second year, continuous assessment (based on essays and reports you write during the course unit) makes up 25-30% of your course mark. The remaining 70-75% is based on written examinations. Marks from most third year lecture course units are 20-30% by continuous assessment and 70-80% by final examination. Third year assignments include a range of activities such as preparation of posters, oral presentations, creation of leaflets and podcasts, coursework essays, mock research grant applications and scientific news-and-views articles, as well as analysis of data from online repositories in mini-research projects.
The first year is formative, while outcomes of your second and third year contribute one third and two-thirds of your final degree classification respectively.