Molecular Ecology

The details
Life Sciences (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
08 March 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BSC C520 Ecology and Environmental Biology,
BSC C521 Ecology and Environmental Biology (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C522 Ecology and Environmental Biology (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C523 Ecology and Environmental Biology (Including Placement Year),
BSC C555 Microbiology,
BSC C556 Microbiology (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C557 Microbiology (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C558 Microbiology (Including Placement Year),
MSCIC559 Microbiology and Biotechnology

Module description

The fundamental building blocks of biodiversity is contained with the genes, genomes, transcriptomes and epigenomes of every living organisms on the plant. This module will develop students understanding of how researchers examine these molecular components of life to better understand the ecology of living organisms.

This feeds directly into modern approaches for conservation biology, monitoring of ecosystems, examining species iterations, and advancing our understanding of the ecological and evolutionary relationships supporting a living planet. The module will be delivered via a series of lectures and lab practicals, with a balanced emphasis on both applying knowledge and understanding theory.

Module aims

The aim of this module is:

  • To provide students with a thorough understanding of molecular ecology, and how molecular ecology approaches can be used to examine ecological and evolutionary biology questions.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Show competence in modern molecular ecology methods, techniques and approaches.

  2. Gain knowledge and critical understanding of how molecular ecology methods can provide insights into ecological and evolutionary biology questions.

  3. Describe and discuss ecological and evolutionary biology theory related to either ecosystem functions, species distributions, evolutionary relationships, species interactions, and species diversity.

  4. Develop competence in molecular methods (PCR, qPCR, NGS etc) applied to ecological and evolutionary biology questions.

  5. Demonstrate competence in modern computational methods for the analysis of molecular data applied to ecological and evolutionary biology questions.

Module information

The module is based around students undertaking group research projects (to be written up and evaluated independently) they have chosen from a serious of options (focusing on either ecosystem functions, species distributions, evolutionary relationships, species interactions, and species diversity). Each project follows similar lab and computational methods but focuses on a different ecological/evolutionary question. Lectures (L) feed into each practical (P) lab/computer session and provide formative feedback on the previous session.


  • Introduction to the module and molecular ecology concepts.

  • Nucleic acids and how they relate to ecology.

  • Isolation of DNA.

  • Developing ecological and evolutionary biology research questions.

  • Universal methods in the modern molecular ecologist tool kit.

  • Amplification of DNA.

  • Functional ecology.

  • Quantifying ecological processes using molecular ecology tools.

  • Quantification of DNA.

  • Inter- and intra- specific relationships and interactions.

  • Enumerating biodiversity.

  • Preparation of DNA for sequencing or advanced quantification.

  • Introduction to ecological bioinformatics.

  • Preparing a molecular ecology research paper.

  • Analysis of project data.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • Lectures.
  • Practical group work.

This module promotes inclusivity and diversity in its delivery in line with the University’s expectations. Different learning styles are catered for through the approaches to teaching by including hands on practical experiences, the use of visuals and audio input.

Each student group will pick from a set of five research topics:

  • Ecosystem functions.
  • Species distributions.
  • Evolutionary relationships.
  • Species interactions.
  • Species diversity.

Students develop research questions around these topics and undertake the research in the designated lab/computer practical session (with appropriate self learning) to answer these questions with theory/support provided in lectures. The methods being deployed are the same across research topics but applied to answer different ecological/evolutionary questions aiding delivering within the same practical sessions.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Lab Project/SPF     

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Robert Ferguson, email:
Dr John Ferguson, Dr Dave Clark



External examiner

Prof Edgar Turner
University of Cambridge
Professor of Insect Ecology
Available via Moodle
Of 50 hours, 14 (28%) hours available to students:
36 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information
Life Sciences (School of)

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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