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BSc Zoology with a Modern Language

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Tropical Ecology & Conservation (RSM Field Course)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL20552
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


For just over two weeks in June you will be immersed in the tropical ecosystems of Costa Rica. You’ll visit various conservation and biodiversity hotspots, including botanical gardens, national parks, mangroves and tropical rainforest. You will see a variety of species, ranging from sloths and red-eye tree frogs to strangler figs and Scarlet Macaws.
In the first week you will stay in an eco-lodge situated in a remote natural oasis, a working model of sustainability and conservation and completely off the grid. Here you will gain experience of the tropical plants and animals found at this private forest reserve and its surrounding areas. Days are divided between lectures, visits and fieldwork. Other highlights include fruit and cocoa tasting, bird watching, moth trapping, a beach trip to see white-faced capuchin monkeys and a mangrove boat tour.
The second week will be spent at La Selva Biological Research Station which is located in lush tropical rainforest. Here you will carry out an individual research project using the knowledge and experience you’ve already gained in week 1. Previous projects have included poison dart frog colourations, food webs in bromeliads, orchid bee attractions, leaf cutter ant foraging, bat biodiversity and hummingbird behaviour.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Introduction to Statistics for Field Courses BIOL10692 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL10692 is a pre-requisite of the Y2 field courses Any students who have not taken this unit in Year 1 must complete it in semester 2 of Year 2.

-If you select a field course RSM unit and have not previously completed the BIOL10692: Introduction to Statistics for Field Course unit (zero credits) in Year 1, this unit will be added to your record as a mandatory co-requisite, to be completed in semester 2 of Year 2.


This unit aims to provide training in research techniques for studying the ecology, behaviour and biodiversity of tropical organisms across a range of natural environments, from mangroves to pre-montane forests to lowland tropical rainforests using the approaches of field-based biologists. The independent project focuses on the formulation of research questions, experimental design, sampling, and data analysis in a tropical rainforest environment. The aim of the course is to study tropical flora and fauna in their natural environments and apply the knowledge gained during the course to assess the conservation and sustainability issues of natural and semi-natural tropical sites.

Learning outcomes

Students will 

  • Be able to describe the basic natural history of key plant and animal taxa in Costa Rica, and be able to identify those importantly associated with tropical ecosystems.
  • Research organisms in their natural tropical environment by designing a field study, including formulating an hypothesis, selecting appropriate sampling techniques and using the appropriate statistical tests to test their hypothesis
  • Create and maintain a field note book
  • Develop team working and leadership skills
  • Be able to present oral and written accounts of their research to a short deadline.
  • Discuss key environmental sustainability and wildlife conservation issues, particularly with regards to global sustainability and ethical conservation programmes in tropical environments.


This course takes place in June and combines hands-on biological fieldwork with studying conservation-related ecological issues in Costa Rica. The first week is spent experiencing several key places of ecological, sustainability and conservation interest from the pre-montane mountain ranges, tropical rainforests to beaches off the Pacific coastline. Sites chosen highlight climatic and biotic diversity in Costa Rica. Students will be introduced to the practicalities of studying tropical organisms and also witness conservation and sustainability-related activities first-hand. Study visits include a boat tour of mangroves, birdwatching visits to important transitional and tropical forests, along with visits to sustainable botanical gardens with cacao farm.

Fieldwork is an important component of this course and in the second week, whilst based at La Selva Biological Station, students will conduct individual research projects. Students formulate working hypotheses and experimental plans and carry out their own data collection. They then analyse their data and write up their research in a concise scientific report.

Over the course of the unit, students will gain a good understanding of the natural history of local plants and animals in Costa Rica together with the research principles involved in studying tropical organisms in their natural environment. Throughout the course we will consider global conservation and sustainability concerns and use Costa Rica as a model to evaluate conservation efforts.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
In the project write-up students have to show analytical skills.
Group/team working
Students work cooperatively in the field
Creativity needed in designing the project and also in the field note book, which includes drawings.
Project management
Students have to complete a project in the last 7 days of field-course.
Oral communication
Students give a presentation on the final day of the field course.
Problem solving
Students design and complete their own project which will require problem solving throughout.
Individual project is a field-based research project.
Written communication
Written assessment of project and notes in field note book.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 5%
Report 50%
Portfolio 35%
Oral assessment/presentation 10%

Report - Independent project write-up, max. 5 pages (50%) 

Portfolio - Reflective field notebook (35%)                           

Oral presentation - 10 mins including questions (10%)

Student’s contribution to the field course as a whole (5%).

Feedback methods

Oral feedback during course, written feedback on notebook and the final report.

Recommended reading

  • Mostly primary research literature with articles and links provided on Blackboard

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 46
Lectures 4
Independent study hours
Independent study 50

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Amanda Bamford Unit coordinator

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