Molecular Ecology and Evolution

Module code: BS3073

Module co-ordinators: Dr Rob Hammond and Dr Trude Schwarzacher

Recent developments in the application of modern genetic techniques to evolution, ecology and conservation have revealed many new insights. In this module you will study how developments in molecular genetics and genomics have been used to improve our understanding of evolutionary and ecological processes and how they can be applied to conservation and biodiversity issues.

The study of ecology and evolution is being revolutionised by the application of modern molecular genetic techniques such as genome sequencing using next generation sequencing, and rapid genotyping methods. Furthermore, these methods are becoming powerful means to study biodiversity and to aid the conservation and management of populations. Understanding molecular genetic techniques is therefore essential for biologists interested in pursuing careers in these areas. This module will introduce you to some modern molecular techniques of assessing genetic variation as you explore how they can be used to investigate geographical patterns of genetic variation, genome evolution, speciation and behavioural ecology. We will also consider how molecular genetic analyses can be used to answer questions relating to conservation and the environment.

The emphasis of this module is very much on a how-to approach, but embedded within a solid theoretical foundation. There will be a series of practicals covering topics ranging from the use of PCR based molecular markers in estimating population genetic structure, to the use of DNA-based phylogenies in conservation genetics.

Topics covered

  • Molecular markers: marker types, new marker development by next generation sequencing and microarrays, advantages and disadvantages of specific markers.
  • Genome evolution: components of genomes, whole genome duplications, chromosome rearrangements, repetitive sequence evolution.
  • Population genetics: population migrations and phylogeography; understanding patterns of geographical variation within species; rates and patterns of dispersal and migration; responses to climate change; measures of genetic diversity, inbreeding, quantitative traits.
  • Speciation and hybrid zones: hybridisation, dispersal and gene flow; tracing of evolutionary patterns and phylogeny.
  • Molecular approaches in behavioural ecology: mating systems and mate choice; recognising kin; genes of ecological importance.
  • Conservation genetics: an outline of the ways in which genetic data (QTLs and marker loci) can contribute to conservation biology. Examples: cheetahs, Asiatic lions, red wolf, whales, turtles, birds, brown bears, mahogany, primroses and orchids.
  • Environmental genomics


  • 30 one-hour lectures
  • 6 one-hour seminars
  • 24 hours of practicals
  • 4 one-hour tutorials


  • Exam, 3 hours (70%)
  • Seminar (10%)
  • Practical reports (20%)