BSc Zoology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Biotic Interactions (L)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL31511
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


All organisms live in an environment shared with many other species of microbes, animals and plants. This advanced ecology unit will introduce the different types of organismal interactions between animals, plants and microbes. Topics will include microbial communities in eukaryotic hosts, plant/pollinator interactions, parasitism and pathogenicity.


Our reductionist approach to biology leads us to underestimate the influence that biotic interactions have on the physiology, development, ecology and evolution of a given organism. This unit will introduce the different types of organismal interactions between animals, plants and microbes. Particular emphasis will be placed on an integrated understanding of those interactions from the molecular to the ecological level, as well as an appreciation of parallels between similar processes across different kingdoms. We will discuss how knowledge of biotic interactions can be applied to agro-ecosystems, human health and conservation.

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to • Understand biotic interactions as a central evolutionary force • Dissect communication, signalling, manipulation and coevolution in biotic interactions • Explain the relevance of biotic interactions for human health, conservation and sustainable agriculture. In addition, students will be able to evaluate and discuss original research; summarize and contextualise research articles for a non-specialist audience; work as part of a team in the preparation of a journal club-style presentation.


• Competition - Predation - Modelling of population dynamics as influenced by biotic interactions (including one PC Cluster session) • Plant as partners in biotic interactions: Plant/pollinator interactions; Herbivory: Seed predation and dispersal • Mutualism - Microbial communities in eukaryotic hosts - Insect endosymbionts - Mycorrhizal and rhizobial symbioses • Parasitism and pathogenicity - Cross-kingdom comparison of parasitic/ pathogenic strategies for animal and plant hosts and of innate immunity • Biotic interactions in agro-ecosystems: Invasive species In addition to lectures covering all aspects of biotic interactions, three journal club sessions will recapitulate the material using recent research articles. Students will be asked to write short (700 word) ‘News and Views’ - style reviews for non-specialists, covering background, novel findings and wider significance. The content of the second essay is also presented in the journal club; online discussion within each team presenting the same paper is encouraged and moderated by the lecturer(s).

Employability skills

Group/team working
Small groups of students will jointly present 'their' research paper in the workshop. This requires some form of collaboration, either online only or by meeting up in person.
The coordination of group presentations requires initiative and leadership to aim for top marks.
Oral communication
Research articles that are the basis of written essays will be discussed in journal club-style workshops (3 out of 18 sessions). Small groups of students present and lead a mini- journal club style discussion of each paper in the workshops.
In the sense of engaging with primary literature, analysing and discussing scientific approaches to biological problems.
Written communication
Students will write short summaries of high-impact research paper, loosely based on style of "News & Views" in the journal Nature. The writing style should be accessible for a non-specialist audience and summarize background, novel findings and wider relevance/impact.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 75%
Written assignment (inc essay) 20%
Oral assessment/presentation 5%
Synoptic Coursework Essay (75%), choice of 4 questions. Two ‘News and Views’ style research paper reviews (5% and15%); Group presentation in journal clubs (5% peer mark given to each individual speaker)

Feedback methods

Detailed formative feedback for the first "low-stakes" research paper review and on request for workshop preparation (Lecturers are available for discussion via email). Lecture topics are recapitulated and discussed during workshops. Past exam available.

Recommended reading

Begon M, Townsend, C & Harper, J (2006) Ecology : from individuals to ecosystems (4th edition). Wiley-Blackwell

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 82

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Thomas Nuhse Unit coordinator

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