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Unit information: Conservation Biology in 2020/21

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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

  1. Explain why it is worth conserving biodiversity;
  2. Identify key drivers of biodiversity loss;
  3. Explain and debate solutions for conserving biodiversity;
  4. Recognise the inter-disciplinary nature of conservation biology
  5. Communicate conservation issues using digital media

Teaching details

Lectures, directed reading, research and/or problem-solving activities; practical exercises and independent study.

Assessment Details

Creation of two short podcasts (one formative, one summative). Students will create and submit work in pairs. Combined, these two podcasts will test ILOs 1, 3, 4 and 5. (40%) Summative written assessment (60%) with one essay question to be selected from a choice of two.

Reading and References


Sodhi, N.S. & Ehrlich, P.R. (2010) Conservation biology for all. Oxford University Press.

Primack, R.B. (2002) Essentials of conservation biology. Sinauer.


Caughley, G. & Gunn, A. (1996) Conservation biology in theory and practice. Blackwell Science.

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.

Ricklefs, R.E. & Schluter, D. (1993) Species diversity in ecological communities. University of Chicago Press.

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment documents. Available at:


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.

Flannery, T. & Schouten, P. (2001) A gap in nature - discovering the world's extinct animals. Heinemann.