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Unit information: Conservation Biology in 2015/16

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Unit name Conservation Biology
Unit code BIOL20401
Credit points 10
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2C (weeks 13 - 18)
Unit director Professor. Harris
Open unit status Open




School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

One of the biggest problems facing biologists is the long-term conservation of a reasonable level of biological diversity, particularly when faced with such intractable problems as an ever-increasing human population and the concomitant demands on space and natural resources. This unit will examine all aspects of conservation biology: the first five lectures outline the key issues – recent patterns of species extinctions, the problems conservationists face, what we mean by biodiversity, how we measure biodiversity, how biodiversity has changed in the past, why it is important to conserve biodiversity, what parts of the world and which ecosystems have the highest biodiversity and why, and which of these are under most threat. The next five lectures looks at the basic biological problems and processes that underpin conservation, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, population demography and sustainable harvesting, meta-populations, how island biogeography theory has shaped our ideas on the design of nature reserves, the effects of habitat size and isolation on biodiversity and rate of species loss, the role of extinction as a natural biological process, the genetic problems faced by small populations and the problems posed by invasive species. The final five lectures look at a variety of approaches to addressing these problems including captive breeding and releasing of endangered species, the contribution of zoos, botanic gardens and nature reserves to the conservation of biodiversity, how landscapes can be managed for the benefit of wildlife, whether sustainable development and ecotourism will contribute to conservation, the potential contribution of ecological restoration, and then look at case studies from around the world.

Throughout the unit, both botanical and zoological examples will be used, and the course concentrates on a world perspective. Since the unit looks at issues and principles, it does not require a great depth of biological knowledge, and so is suitable for students with a wide range of backgrounds.


To provide a thorough understanding of the problems of conserving biodiversity, and the scientific rationale underpinning different approaches to conservation.

Intended Learning Outcomes

To understand the problems of conserving biodiversity.

Teaching Information

  • 3 x 1 hour weekly lectures (weeks 13-17)
  • Self-directed learning week (week 18). Students are expected to spend this time on directed reading.

Assessment Information

  • 2,500-word essay (40%).
  • End of Session exam (60%).

Reading and References

The most relevant books for the course are:

  • Beebee, T. & Rowe, G. (2004) An introduction to molecular ecology. Oxford University Press. Chapter 5 (Population genetics) and Chapter 8 (Conservation genetics) are particularly useful.
  • Caughley, G. & Gunn, A. (1996) Conservation biology in theory and practice. Blackwell Science.
  • Flannery, T. & Schouten, P. (2001) A gap in nature - discovering the world's extinct animals. Heinemann.
  • Lawton, J.H. & May, R.M. (1995) Extinction rates. Oxford University Press.
  • Groom, M.J., Meffe, G.K. & Carroll, C.R. (2005) Principles of conservation biology. Sinauer.
  • Primack, R.B. (2002) Essentials of conservation biology. Sinauer..
  • Ricklefs, R.E. & Schluter, D. (1993) Species diversity in ecological communities. University of Chicago Press.
  • Sodhi, N.S. & Ehrlich, P.R. (2010) Conservation biology for all. Oxford University Press.