BSc Plant Science

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Conservation Biology (E)

Unit code BIOL31482
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


The biodiversity of our planet is increasingly at risk due to the activities of man. This unit aims to provide the conceptual background to enable you to understand the main concerns in the loss of biodiversity and how appropriate conservation strategies could help to ameliorate man’s impact. Case studies will include: grey wolves in Europe; orang-utans in Borneo and the Western black rhino.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Fundamentals of Evolutionary Biology BIOL21232 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Fundamentals of Evolutionary Biology BIOL21032 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL31482 Pre-requisite is BIOL21232

Fundamentals of Evolutionary Biology: compulsory, but students can take this unit provided they are willing to catch up on essential background material e.g. population genetics, covered in the second year unit)



The biodiversity of our planet is increasingly at risk due to the activities of man. This unit aims to provide the conceptual background to enable students to understand the main concerns in the loss of biodiversity and how appropriate conservation strategies could help to ameliorate man’s impact. The theoretical basis of conservation biology is multidisciplinary involving population genetics, ecology, evolution, population biology, etc. Students will be expected to have some basic knowledge in these areas (see prerequisite recommendations), which will be extended and applied to conservation using a wide range of examples of conservation research and management. Lectures will be interspersed with Case Studies that exemplify the lecture material by focussing on a set of research papers on a particular conservation issue and debates to allow students to explore the complexities of topical issues.


Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • explain objectively the importance of conserving biodiversity
  • explain the broad base of theory and scientific methodology underlying conservation biology
  • interpret information and evidence on biodiversity and apply this to inform conservation management strategies



1 Introduction to Conservation: What is conservation biology and why do we need it? (CW)

2 The global protected area network: anthropogenic land use and transformation, protected areas history and bias. (SS)

3 Understanding species extinction risk: Intrinsic risk, gap and refugee species, defining risk and vulnerability, adequacy of protection. (SS)

4 Problems of small populations 1: loss of genetic diversity and adaptive potential, inbreeding depression, minimal viable populations. (CW)

5 Problems of small populations 2: Outbreeding depression and issues for captive breeding and reintroduction. (CW)

6 Case study: Gray wolves (CW)

7 Debate: the role of zoos and captive breeding in conservation (CW)

8,9 Problems of fragmented populations: population structure and gene flow, managing protected and unprotected areas, habitat corridors, translocations. (CW)

10 Case Study/data interpretation session on squirrels in Thailand. How can we use spatial genetic information on forest species to inform conservation management? (CW)

11 Modelling current and future viability. Species distribution models and population viability analysis. (SS)

12 Conservation in the Tropics: balancing human and wildlife needs, sustainable development. (CW)

13 Conservation physiology: stress and reproduction in captive and wild populations and discussion of research design (SS)

14 Debate 1: Trophy hunting, fishing and paying for conservation (SS)

15 Conservation Management in Wetland and FreshwaterEcosystems: including issues of biological invasions, eutrophication, impacts of waterextraction and pollution. (AG)
16 Debate 2: Management conflicts in Doñana and similarMediterranean wetlands. e.g. is growing rice good or bad? Is cattlegrazing good or bad. (AG)

17 Conservation for the long term: species and ecosystem responses to climate change. (CW).

18 Feedback session (All).


In addition to the lectures there will be a 2 hour poster session (with poster prizes and refreshments) that will be held late afternoon/evening towards the end of the course.


Employability skills

Analytical skills
During Case Study sessions, students will be presented with data to interpret and apply to conservation management.
Group/team working
Students will be encouraged to participate in group discussions during Debate and Case Study sessions. Students will also work in small groups to prepare and present a poster.
Students have the opportunity to be creative during Case Study sessions where they will be asked to outline research ideas in response to a particular conservation need. In addition, students should be innovative in the creation of their poster on a topic of their choice.
Oral communication
Students encouraged to take part in class discussions of the Case Studies and in Debates.
Research required to prepare for the Debates and Poster Session.
Written communication
Poster creation, poster summary and final exam.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 40%
Written exam 60%

Final examination: 1 hour essay style paper (60% of marks). Coursework: 1. Two online tests that test students on both lecture and Case Study material (15% of marks). 2. Group creation and presentation of a poster within a poster session on a conservation topic chosen by the students and individual summary of a selected poster (25% of marks).


Recommended reading

  • Frankham R, Ballou JD & Briscoe A (2010) Introduction to Conservation Genetics. Cambridge University Press
  • Primack R B (2014) Essentials of Conservation Biology. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland. Mass.
  • David W. MacDonald, Katherine J Willis (Eds) (2013) Key Topics in Conservation Biology


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Catherine Walton Unit coordinator

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