Behavioural Ecology

Module code: BS3080

Module co-ordinator: Dr Will Norton

Behavioural ecology is the scientific study of the function of animal behaviour, in other words how evolutionary processes have shaped the behaviour of animals to be adaptive within the context of their natural ecology. Behavioural ecologists carry out observational and experimental research both in the field and in the laboratory, and also use mathematical modelling as a tool to understand patterns and processes in behaviour.

In this module you will develop an in-depth understanding of how animal behaviour has evolved, and how the various pressures imposed by selective forces in natural ecosystems have shaped the behaviour of animals. The module includes an eight-day residential field course based at Slapton Ley Field Studies Centre in Devon, during which you will be taught how to undertake behavioural research on wild animals in their natural habitats. You will also design and undertake your own research project examining the adaptive function of behaviour on a species of your choice. Before the field course, a series of lectures that will provide you with a detailed understanding of the modern study of behavioural ecology, and focused workshops will give you an in-depth understanding of current intense research interest.

Topics covered

  • Theoretical, observational and experimental approaches to the modern study of behavioural ecology
  • Current state of knowledge in the field of behavioural ecology
  • Field observations and quantitative data collection
  • Data analysis using appropriate statistical and graphical techniques


  • 21 one-hour lectures
  • 4 one-hour seminars
  • 10 hours of practicals
  • 60 hours of fieldwork


  • Exam, 3 hours (70%)
  • Field journal (20%)
  • Research seminar (10%)