BSc Zoology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Field Course in Animal Behaviour and Diversity

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL10642
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This 12 day field course is held at a site near Marakele National Park in South Africa. Using the South African savannah as a setting you will analyse the cause and function of the behaviour of a range of animals including large mammals, birds and invertebrates. You will also be able to conduct biodiversity projects on invertebrate, bird and mammal populations. Working in small teams you will design and execute a field based project.

Take a look at our field courses webpage for more information and photographs:


**The cost of this field course is to be confirmed.  A deposit is required when you sign up for this field course; this is non-refundable unless we are unable to offer a place**


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Introduction to Statistics for Field Courses BIOL10692 Co-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL10692 is a co-requisite of the Y1 field courses

This unit is preferentially aimed at Zoology and Biology students but is also open to Biology with Science & Society and Life Sciences students. Participants on the course will have to undergo a course of appropriate immunisations in the months prior to the departure date.


The overall aim of the course is to provide an understanding of the adaptive value of animal behaviour and how it can be analysed. Using the South African savannah as a setting, students will design simple experiments in the field on animals across a wide variety of taxa, ranging from large mammals and birds to invertebrates, to address cause and function of animal behaviour. The course will also cover conservation issues and ex situ management as well as topics covering methods to assess biodiversity across taxa.

Learning outcomes

  • To understand the fundamental principles of experimental design and conduct simple behavioural experiments in the field.
  • To develop observational skills to accurately record behaviours of a diverse range of animals.
  • To understand key concepts in behavioural ecology, comparative evolution, and biodiversity
  • To understand how behaviour is adapted to the physical and social environment
  • To develop skills in statistical analyses, experimental design and presentation of project results.


Prior to the field course, students will receive a lecture in experimental design and will complete a statistics exercise. They will also be expected to read a paper describing a zoological study, and summarise it in a short group presentation. The residential field course will take place over 12 days of the Easter vacation (exact dates to be finalized) in South Africa. Accommodation is provided at a site near Marakele National Park, Thabazimbi, in the Limpopo province. Common flora and fauna of the bushveld will be identified. Students will work in small groups on different behavioural or biodiversity projects, including classifying species based on behaviour, diurnal variation in animal behaviour, social behaviour of birds and large mammals, and biodiversity. Lectures covering aspects of animal behaviour, zoology, conservation biology, evolutionary biology and behavioural ecology will be delivered during the field course. The course work is complemented by an excursion to Pilanesberg National Park, night drives and an introduction to the rehabilitation, conservation and breeding of African animals.

Field course attendance requires a financial contribution to be made early in the first semester of your first year. In cases of financial hardship, you should contact the Senior Advisor as soon as possible. You cannot change field course registration after the end of the second week of teaching in Semester 1.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
There is a strong emphasis on deciding how to analyse data and perform the appropriate statistical tests.
Group/team working
Projects in the field are carried out in groups of 4-5. Students are required to devise an experimental plan and then spend 4-5 days collecting data.
This is probably the first chance for 1st year students to design their own experiments. Students develop projects of their own design with help from academic staff.
Leaders are not appointed but inevitably one or more students take charge of different aspects of the project.
Project management
Groups decide when to collect data, identify a suitable site, and develop a clear project management plan.
Oral communication
Group presentations using flipcharts in the field. This is a 10 minute presentation summarising the rationale project, methods and findings, followed by 5 minutes of questions.
Problem solving
Students will encounter problems with their experimental design/ data collection. Conditions are often unpredictable and require flexibility.
The idea is to design and carry out a mini-research project - the students come up with a hypothesis and then work out a scientific way to test it.
Written communication
Individual reports of the field project. Handed in 2 weeks after returning from the field to allow access to the library/ internet for retrieving references. Requires appropriate statistical analysis of data.
Students may be outside of their normal comfort zones, being in a foreign country and different environment. Fieldwork is unique in providing the opportunity to study outside of the lab.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 15%
Written assignment (inc essay) 55%
Oral assessment/presentation 15%
Set exercise 5%

Students will be assessed as part of the BIOL10642  preparatory course (10%) individual experimental design worksheets (5%), 1 hour exam during the course consisting of about 25 questions (15%), group presentation of the projects (15%), and individual project reports (55%).

Feedback methods

Students will receive verbal feedback on their experimental design to help with project planning. They will also receive written feedback on their write-ups to improve their report-writing skills.

Recommended reading


  • Festing, MFW et al. The Design of Animal Experiments, 2nd ed. SAGE (2016).


  • Bateson, P & Martin, P, Measuring Behaviour (3rd edition), Cambridge University Press (2007)
  • Carruthers, V, The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animals and Plants of the Region, Struik, Capetown, SA (2000).
  • Estes, RD, The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals, UC Press: Los Angeles (1992).
  • Fowler, J & Cohen, L, Practical Statistics for Field Biology (2nd Edition), Wiley: Chichester (1998).
  • Krebs JR, Davies NB, West SA, An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, Oxford University Press (2012).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 90
Seminars 9
Independent study hours
Independent study 1

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Reinmar Hager Unit coordinator

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