Molecular Ecology

Module code: BS3065

Module co-ordinator: Dr Richard Gornall

The application of molecular markers and molecular genetic techniques to problems in ecology is becoming ever more important. In particular, increased interest in the areas of biodiversity and conservation has led to a greater need among ecologists to use molecular genetic techniques. This module will introduce you to molecular markers as we consider their application to various ecological processes and situations that hitherto were not easily studied, e.g. geographical patterns of genetic variation, the design of conservation strategies, the analysis of hybrid zones, and mate choice and breeding behaviour in birds.

Module outline 

  • Molecular markers: RFLPs; sequencing; arbitrary primers (RAPDs, ISSRs, AFLPs); micro-satellites; isozymes.
  • Ecological processes: Mating systems and behaviour - Parentage; sexual selection, mating systems and parental care; altruism and eusociality
  • Hybrid zones - How molecular markers are used to follow the processes of hybridisation, dispersal and gene flow when distinct species or races meet. Examples include grasshoppers, toads, shrews and mice.
  • Population migrations and phylogeography: Understanding patterns of geographical variation within species; rates and patterns of dispersal and migration; responses to climate change.
  • Population genetics: Measures of genetic diversity; inbreeding; quantitative traits.
  • Conservation genetics: how genetic data (QTLs and marker loci) can contribute to conservation biology. Examples include cheetahs, Asiatic lions, red wolf, whales, turtles, birds, brown bears, mahogany, primroses and orchids.
  • Practical: Isozymes and the measurement of genetic variability
  • Practical: The use of DNA phylogenies in conservation genetics
  • Aspects and consequences of inbreeding (involves students working in small groups).


  • 30 one-hour lectures
  • 5 one-hour seminars
  • 4 one-hour tutorials
  • 5 hours of fieldwork


  • Practical reports and seminar (30%)
  • Exam, 2 hours (70%)