Principles of Ecology and Conservation Biology

Module code: BS2065

Module co-ordinator: Dr DM Harper

In this module you will study the ecological principles behind the structure and function of land and freshwater ecosystems. You will learn how to interpret changes in ecosystems, and separate those that are natural (succession, seasonality) from those that are not (past and present human impacts). With this understanding you will be able to evaluate the need for conservation of 'biodiversity' - the natural world.

We will explore different aspects of ecology including species, populations, communities, ecosystems and biomes, together with the abiotic factors which regulate their structure and processes. There will be practical exercises each day, in different ecosystems in South West Wales. 

Topics covered

  • Abiotic factors and their effects
  • Soil formation and structure
  • Physical effect of solar radiation on water bodies - Lake stratification and mixing; oxygen distribution as a result of euphotic zone
  • Seasonal change which results leading to the 'paradox of the plankton'
  • Downstream changes in river ecosystems expressed as “the river continuum concept” 
  • Intertidal systems structured according to the physical pressures of disturbance, salinity, exposure (key information is expressed in in the kite diagrams of gradients)
  • Distribution of running water invertebrates along a salinity gradient
  • Population characteristics – distribution and the 'metapopulation' concept. Distribution on small scales. Large scale gradients
  • Population life tables. Survivorship curves (I II III). Growth rates and growth curves. Concept of 'r' and 'K' selection. Population dispersal.
  • Orielton woodland. Soil structure; tree density - species diversity; methods of sampling populations – mark-recapture
  • Reproductive strategies - Grimes’ 3 plant stategies; Winemiller & Rose’s three animal strategies; Charnov’s dimensionless life history strategies
  • 'Competition exclusion principle' – examples from rocky shore barnacles, rock pool winkles, planktonic algae.
  • Zonation of a rocky shore. Competition (barnacles) – Mann-Whitney U test; discontinuous distribution (whelks)
  • Predation as a factor creating population cycles. Predation effects at community level - examples from rocky shore. 'Keystone' species – those which modify the community they inhabit depending upon their density
  • 'Niche concept' Realised and fundamental. Concept of 'intermediate disturbance' maintaining more niche space by compressing realised niches, hence maximising biodiversity in ecosystems
  • Primary succession on sand dunes - NVC classification; hydrosere on edge of a lake
  • Primary production. Global limits and patterns to production on land and the sea. Trophic dynamic concepts of ecosystems; example of a whole ecosystem energy flow
  • Nutrient cycling. P, N and C – similarities and differences. Decomposition as the process that links energy flow and nutrient cycling. Spiralling in streams. Evidence for the tight cycling by whole-ecosystem experiments (Hubbard Brook)
  • Food web in a pond. Structure of calcareous – ‘mesotrophic lakes’
  • Landscape scale ecology – fragmentation, its measurement and its use in restoration ecology (territory size, dispersal; example of red kite in UK). Corridors.
  • The 'Theory of Island Biogeography'. Examples to test the theory
  • Concepts of 'stability' – resistance and resilience. Species gradients across the globe and explanations for them.




  • Exam, 2 hours (50%)
  • 3 assignments (50%)