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Unit information: Oceans in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Oceans
Unit code BIOL30011
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Genner
Open unit status Not open

None, but we advise BIOL21403 Marine ecology and physiology.



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


Marine ecosystems provide a wealth of opportunity to teach biological phenomena through engaging and thought-provoking examples. We will teach key concepts relating to the evolution and ecology of life in oceanic systems. We will examine evidence of how oceanic ecosystems have changed over evolutionary timescales, and the drivers of spatial and temporal patterns of oceanic biodiversity over macroecological gradients. We will discuss how the distributions and behaviours of marine species are related to environmental variables, and the sensory, morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations that have enabled species to occupy those niches. We will describe how technological advances in fields such as sensing, telemetry and genomics are helping us to understand the marine biodiversity in more detail than ever before. We will describe the latest evidence for human impacts on marine ecosystems and discuss proposed strategies for mitigation and conservation. The unit will build on principles introduced in level 2 “Marine Ecology and Physiology”, and will complement level 3 units teaching behavioural ecology, sensory ecology and conservation. Throughout the course we will emphasise how methodological and technological innovation has and will continue to be critical for providing the increasingly robust insights that developed the field over recent years.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, students should be able to:

  1. Explain how and why the oceans have changed over long evolutionary timescales
  2. Describe the processes that drive the structure of marine biodiversity
  3. Illustrate how key environmental variables affect biological communities and ecological interactions.
  4. Explain how sensory, morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations have evolved through natural selection.
  5. Describe the challenges faced by marine organisms in the Anthropocene, and measures to mitigate or alleviate those human- induced challenges where possible.
  6. Evaluate the strength of scientific evidence presented in scientific papers relevant to the theories presented in the unit
  7. Apply understanding of underlying key principles (1-5 above) to construct research agendas to study and explain novel scenarios.
  8. Combine knowledge of scientific literature to support research proposed in 7, above.

Teaching details


Assessment Details

There will be a single end-of-session 1.5 hour examination, contributing 100% of the marks for this unit, as is the standard pattern for L3 units in Biological Sciences. This tests ILOs 1-8.

Reading and References


The lectures will mainly be developed and supported from the primary research literature. It will be useful for students to refer to the following core reference text for information on general principles.

Levinton J. (2014) Marine Biology: Function, Biodiversity, Ecology. 4th edition. OUP


Costa, D.P., Breed, G.A. and Robinson, P.W. 2012. New insights into pelagic migrations: implications for ecology and conservation. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 43, 73-96.

Davidson, A.D., Boyer, A.G., Kim, H., Pompa-Mansilla, S., Hamilton, M.J., Costa, D.P., Ceballos, G. and Brown, J.H. 2012. Drivers and hotspots of extinction risk in marine mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 3395-3400.

Gage, J.D. and Tyler, P.A. 1991. Deep-sea biology: a natural history of organisms at the deep-sea floor. Cambridge University Press.

Haddock, S.H., Moline, M.A. and Case, J.F. 2010. Bioluminescence in the Sea. Annual Review of Marine Science, 2, 443-93.

Hughes, T.P., Anderson, K.D., Connolly, S.R., Heron, S.F., Kerry, J.T., Lough, J.M., Baird, A.H., Baum, J.K., Berumen, M.L., Bridge, T.C. and Claar, D.C. 2018. Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene. Science, 359, 80-83.

Hussey, N.E., Kessel, S.T., Aarestrup, K., Cooke, S.J., Cowley, P.D., Fisk, A.T., Harcourt, R.G., Holland, K.N., Iverson, S.J., Kocik, J.F. and Flemming, J.E.M. 2015. Aquatic animal telemetry: a panoramic window into the underwater world. Science, 348, 1255642.

Johnsen, S., 2001. Hidden in plain sight: the ecology and physiology of organismal transparency. The Biological Bulletin, 20, 301-318.

Kelley, J.L., Brown, A.P., Therkildsen, N.O. and Foote, A.D. 2016. The life aquatic: advances in marine vertebrate genomics. Nature Reviews Genetics, 17, 523-534.

Ramos, R. and González-Solís, J., 2012. Trace me if you can: the use of intrinsic biogeochemical markers in marine top predators. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10, 258-266.

Warrant, E.J. and Locket, N.A., 2004. Vision in the deep sea. Biological Reviews, 79, 671-712.

Further reading:

Widder, E.A., 2010. Bioluminescence in the ocean: origins of biological, chemical, and ecological diversity. Science, 328, 704-708.

Elliott, J.E. and Elliott, K.H., 2013. Tracking marine pollution. Science, 340, 556-558.

Foote, A.D., Liu, Y., Thomas, G.W., Vinaƙ, T., Alföldi, J., Deng, J., Dugan, S., van Elk, C.E., Hunter, M.E., Joshi, V. and Khan, Z., 2015. Convergent evolution of the genomes of marine mammals. Nature genetics, 47, 272-275.