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Unit information: Conservation Biology in 2017/18

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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. Memmott
Open unit status Not open




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


One of the biggest problems facing biologists is the long-term conservation of biological diversity, particularly when faced with problems such as increasing human population and the concomitant demands on space and natural resources. This unit will examine aspects of conservation biology: it will outline the key issues such as 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. It will then look at the biological issues and processes that underpin conservation, including 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 unit will also look at a variety of approaches to addressing these problems.

Throughout the unit, both botanical and zoological examples will be used, and the unit will concentrate on a world perspective. The unit 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 details

  • 3 x 1 hour weekly lectures
  • Self-directed learning week. Students are expected to spend this time on directed reading.

Assessment Details

  • 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.