BIO2022 - Evolutionary ecology - 2017

6 points, SCA Band 2, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate - Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.



Organisational Unit

School of Biological Sciences


Dr Damian Dowling

Unit guides



  • Second semester 2017 (Day)


This unit introduces students to the patterns and processes of evolution by natural selection. It investigates what species are, how to recognise them, how they are described and classified, and the range of circumstances and mechanisms under which they form in nature. Armed with this background, we investigate the evolution of the key biological phenomena of relevance to ecology, notably life-history evolution. The unit goes on to explore the genetic basis of evolution by natural selection and adaptation of organisms to their environments. This entails an appreciation of the control and inheritance of traits that have major influences in the lives of organisms, and fundamental evolutionary principles and approaches (Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, fitness, adaptive genetic variation, heritability of complex traits and their response to natural selection). Students will understand how different kinds of genetic variation are (and are not) associated with fitness of individual organisms and viability of populations. We then explore approaches to investigating population biology of organisms (such as estimating dispersal and gene flow in real landscapes) in a coherent progression encompassing small and large ecological scales. These concepts are illustrated by exploration of exciting examples encompassing pure and applied science, including urban ecology, invasion and conservation biology, global change ecology, with associated practical work. We examine fitness in natural populations and the special issues of small populations, particularly inbreeding depression, loss of genetic variation, limits to adaptation to new environmental pressures, and the relationship between genetic variation and extinction risk of populations and species. We investigate how genetic variation in organisms is associated with ecosystem function, ecological community structure and protection against environmental change. The unit ends with an assessment of how evolutionary principles can be applied to try and assist biota to adapt sufficiently rapidly to survive rapidly changing environments with multiple stressors.


On completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Describe the theory of evolution;
  2. Explain the fundamental processes of evolution via natural selection with particular reference to life history evolution;
  3. Describe the principles of speciation, species concepts and systematically classifying organic diversity;
  4. Outline the genetic basis of evolution, and the associated fundamental principles and approaches of evolutionary genetics;
  5. Describe major types of genetic variation, and demonstrate an appreciation of how they may be applied to estimating major features of population biology;
  6. Identify and explain the relationship between different types of genetic variation and the fitness and function of individuals;
  7. Review and explain the theoretical and observed relationships between evolutionary genetic variation and extinction risk of populations, and describe the avenues by which evolutionary principles can be used to promote survival of populations and species in a changing and uncertain world;
  8. Synthesise and communicate scientific principles and information underlying evolution in oral and/or written formats.


Final theory examination (2 hours): 50%

Practical assignments: 50%

Workload requirements

Two 1-hour lectures and one 3-hour practical or equivalent

See also Unit timetable information

Chief examiner(s)

This unit applies to the following area(s) of study


BIO1011 and either BIO1022 or BIO1042; or BMS1011 and BMS1021