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Ecology and Environmental Sustainability MSc    Back

University of Aberdeen Course Type: Master taught/research Start Date: September
Location: Aberdeen, United Kingdom Duration: see details Fees/total cost: EUR 6,072.30 (GBP 4,500.00) - EUR 23,209.68 (GBP 17,200.00)



Our MSc programme provides flexibility to enable you to gain knowledge and skills to meet your career aspirations, whether in research or as a practising ecologist. The programme runs through a full year, starting with a field course and culminating in a major research project. You will have the opportunity to gain hands on experience of everything from field survey to chairing discussions, from statistics and modelling to report writing and from identifying important ecological questions to researching them and writing a scientific paper. Previous graduates have gone on to the top of their chosen profession in research, consultancy, conservation, policy, education and advocacy.

You will get to know your peers at the outset on a week-long field research skills course held at our field centre in the stunning surroundings of Bettyhill on the north coast of Sutherland. This is followed by core training in plant community ecology, animal population ecology, GIS and experimental design and analysis (which includes use of R). Thereafter, you select from our broad palette of courses. Students wishing to gain research training may take advantage of our renowned suite of advanced statistical and modelling courses, which focus on techniques used in ecology and conservation. Those interested in applied ecology may choose to study catchment management, marine spatial management and conservation management planning, amongst others. A key course for those aiming to work in consultancy is Environmental Impact Assessment. The opportunity to place your ecological study in a broader, interdisciplinary context is provided through very popular courses on ecology, conservation and society.

In the final semester you will all complete a research project which enables you to develop expertise and contacts in a topic of your own choosing. Preparation may begin as early in the year as you like, as you discuss ideas with staff and external organisations.

What You'll Study

The information below applies to the 1 year full time / 2 year part time on campus learning MSc programme which runs in September.

Semester 1

Compulsory Courses

Experimental Design and Analyses (BI5009)

This course is uniquely tailored for biologists and will provide students with the required background and skills relevant to modern ecology and biology. The unique format of example-led lectures and real-world based practicals will provide you with a foundation to become confident and proficient in dealing with real data. Throughout this course, we will introduce you to using the programming language R (an industry standard) to implement modern statistical modelling techniques. You will use the flexible linear and generalised modelling framework to analyse biological data.

Introduction to GIS (EV5402)

Introduction to GIS will provide you with the opportunities to become familiar with ArcGIS software and understand the application of GIS technologies to address ecological research questions.

  • Provide increasingly important GIS skills on your CV
  • Practical based course so you learn how to use GIS as well as getting the theory
  • Range of real research examples used in terrestrial and marine ecology

Plant Ecology (PL5001)

Integrated lectures, field trips, data exercises and discussions provide a broad overview of theoretical plant ecology and its practical applications. You will participate in data collection in sand dune, heathland and woodland habitats and become familiar with a range of plant species. Key skills in vegetation survey, monitoring and research are taught. Class field data are used as the basis for understanding ecological processes and for learning vegetation analysis methods. You will practice writing skills in a data report and essay, supported by “clinics” and by individual help to students. Detailed feedback will help your writing in subsequent courses.

Population and Community Ecology (ZO5304)

The course is structured as a series of weekly themes, which each reflect areas of current research in animal ecology. The content of the course is research-based, drawing on case studies from research-active staff within the School of Biological Sciences. The topics cover a range of ecological and spatial scales: from single species’ population dynamics to community dynamics, and from local to macro-scale processes, with a focus on the application of current ecological knowledge and theory.

Optional Courses

Plus 15- 22.5 credit points from the following list

Statistics for Complex Study Designs (BI5010)

This highly regarded course will take your understanding of statistics to the next level and provide you with the skills and confidence to analyse your complex biological data. Through a combination of lectures, computer based practicals and group work you will gain an understanding of how to deal with pervasive issues in the analysis of real world biological data such as heterogeneity of variance and spatial and temporal non-independence. Hands on computer tutorials will allow you to apply statistical models using modern statistical software (R) to real data, collected by researchers to answer real biological questions.

Introduction to Ecological Field Research In Northern Scotland (EK5003)

In this 7-day excursion to the Bettyhill Field Station in the North of Scotland, Masters students will be introduced to a variety of ecosystems and will learn to develop and assess hypotheses about the ecological patterns and processes that we encounter, using a range of ecological sampling techniques. We will also identify ecological sampling techniques used to address local conservation issues, and students will have the opportunity to develop and carry out a small-scale independent research project.

Molecular Ecological Techniques (EK5405)

The course will develop the student’s awareness of how molecular genetic techniques, including modern ‘omics technologies, can be used to inform our understanding of aspects of ecology, evolution, population biology and conservation science. The course will describe the underlying central dogma of molecular biology that explains how genetic diversity arises and can be harnessed as molecular markers. It will then review the contribution of molecular genetics in individual, population and species level studies.

Soils for Food Security (SS5305)

This advanced soil science course provides additional teaching of physical, chemical and biological properties of soils in the context of food security. You will learn a variety of processes that affect soil productivity, accompanied by practical sessions that will teach relevant analytical methods. The wide range of soil processes taught will be brought together at the end of the course to provide a working knowledge of agronomy, including the interactions between crops and specific chemical or physical properties of soils.

Aquaculture (ZO5303)

Aquaculture now supplies approximately 50% of all marine food consumed by humans. Farming of fish and shellfish is the fastest growing food production industry in the world and is predicted to continue grow over the next few decades, within Scotland salmon is the second largest food export. The demand from the growing human population for high quality food and fish paralleled by the over exploitation of wild fish stocks is driving the expansion of aquaculture. There are many issues with fish farming including disease control, feeding, controlling life histories, genetics and the environmental load.

Introduction to Bayesian Inference (BI5401)

This course is one of the few postgraduate courses in Europe to provide an introduction to Bayesian inference for biologists, which is increasingly used in advanced quantitative research. A combination of lectures and personal research will provide you with the core concepts necessary to understand recent research in your field and apply Bayesian approaches to your own research. Hands-on computer tutorials will also allow you to implement statistical models in a Bayesian context and provide you with the essential skills for taking it further.

Semester 2

Compulsory Courses

Research Project Planning (EK5805)

  • Enables students to identify the rationale, questions, methods and logistics associated with their summer research projects;
  • Time-tabling is unstructured to allow students the flexibility to meet with their supervisory team, undertake preliminary analyses and arrange logistics;
  • Assessment designed to capture the key aims and methods of the project, and this work can be used as the basis of the main introductory chapter in the final thesis.

Optional Courses

Plus 52.5 – 60 credit points from the following

Environmental Impact Assessment (EK5804)

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a process for providing information about likely effects of certain human activities on ‘the environment’, and for identifying ways of minimising adverse effects and enhancing any positive effects.

Case studies, workshops and field visits are used to encourage participative learning related to components of the EIA process.

Oral presentations and written reports provide opportunities to develop your communication skills and to master the theory, policy and implementation elements to EIA.

Visiting speakers from the local area provide practitioner perspectives on the role of EIA in development decisions.

Spatial Information Analysis (EV5511)

Advanced Spatial Information Analysis will take your basic GIS skills and introduce advanced analysis techniques relevant to marine and terrestrial ecology.

  • Course delivered by GIS professionals with number of relevant guest speakers from industry and NGO’s
  • Mainly practical based course to give hands on experience
  • Assessment based on research proposal can be linked to your research project

Provide you with the necessary GIS skills for careers in spatial analysis research and management of natural resources.

Marine Spatial Management and Top Predators (ZO5508)

This course will enable students to appreciate the level of understanding of physical & biological oceanography, biodiversity, trophic interactions and individual species level life history issues that are required to implement spatially explicit, sustainable marine conservation. Students will be able to problem-solve in small groups and integrate diverse data sources to define the reasons for specific locations and the design of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Labs will cover a range of skills from the use of oceanographic models to the analysis of varied layers of spatial data on species, habitats and communities.

Readings in Ecology, Conservation and Environment (BI5702)

The aim of the course is to explore a topic within ecology, nature conservation or environmental sustainability through reading published material, synthesise the information and present this synthesis in an oral format; the latter concerns a formal presentation to peers and an oral examination. Upon completion of the course students will be able to: i) explain in detail a topic of study in ecology, conservation or environmental sustainability to peers; ii) demonstrate synthetic knowledge by answering questions about the topic in an oral exam; and iii) discuss the relevance of their topic to broader issues in ecology and environmental sustainability.

Ecology, Conservation and Society (EK5510)

  • Six themes that reflect current theory and practice in the interface between ecology and society; these are explored through structured in-class activities that challenge you to consider problems and evidence from different perspectives.
  • Guest lecturers from anthropology, human geography and philosophy increase your capacity for self-reflection and awareness of ethical and moral issues embedded in problems that are often framed as ecological.
  • Four short discussion essays are required; you will get detailed feedback for improving your writing skills.
  • Weekly student-led discussions allow you to develop your capacity for attentive exchange, informed argument and reasoning, and skills in facilitating discussion.

Catchment Management (EK5511)

Field visits to examine river systems and forested catchments provide context and opportunities to discuss a diverse set of environmental management problems with professionals working in the field.

Practical sessions provide structured activities focused on the identification of freshwater invertebrates and applications of GIS approaches for analysing data to support catchment management planning.

You apply theoretical and practical knowledge to a case study, demonstrating your capacity to evaluate site specific data and to interpret relevant legislation and regulation.

Working individually and with a group you will write and present a management plan for a location of your choosing.

Environmental Management Plan (EV5801)

One week of field work in a multiple use forest followed by five weeks of data analysis, practical tasks and writing provides training required to construct a management plan.

Structured practical sessions provide experience with spreadsheets, ArcGIS and other technical software and increases your confidence with data handling and analysis.

The main assignment in the form of a management plan allows you to develop your skills to a professional standard.

The mixture of science and management offers you a unique range of skills required by employers.

Applied Forest Ecology (EK5806)

Applied forest ecology, or silviculture, is the application of scientific principles to the management of forests - to create and maintain the types of forest (both planted and natural) that will best fulfil the objectives of the owner and society in general.

Current theory and application of forest ecology will be covered in a series of lectures to allow you to explore the science of forest ecosystem dynamics.

Discussions during the lectures will encourage inquiry and informed argument.

One main assignment based on actual forest ecosystems will allow you to demonstrate individual thought and analysis.

Advanced Modelling for Ecology and Conservation (EK5704)

This course teaches participants how to construct, implement and analyse their own models. The course introduces simulation techniques and programming in either R or C++. Additionally, it introduces a new software platform, RangeShifter, developed by researchers at Aberdeen. RangeShifter allows easier development of simulation studies in spatial ecology and conservation. Developers of the software are involved in teaching the course. A major component of the course is a mini project, during which you will work in small teams to develop your own models.

Semester 3

Compulsory Courses

Project in Ecology (ZO5901)

  • Independent research project that can cover any area of ecology and/or conservation, and which may be field, computer, laboratory or greenhouse based;
  • Provides a thorough training in managing all aspects of a research project from inception to delivery of a thesis in the format of an international scientific journal;
  • Projects can be based anywhere in the world and are often associated with current cutting-edge research by academic staff;
  • Collaboration with external organisations is encouraged to enable students to gain a greater range of experience and contacts.

Masters - Part time

Start date:
2 Years
Teaching method:
Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Funding possible:
Tuition fees

Masters - Full time

Start date:
1 Year
Teaching method:
Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Funding possible:
EUR 6,072.30 (GBP 4,500.00)
EUR 23,209.68 (GBP 17,200.00)
Additional Information:
Fees 2016/17
Tuition fees

Course Provider Details

Course contact information

College of Life Sciences and Medicine Graduate School
University accredited:
Last update: 24/08/2016