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This programme is designed to equip you with a range of contemporary ecological and transferable skills that will provide an invaluable basis for your career.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
studies, workshops and field visits are used to encourage participative
learning related to components of the EIA process.
presentations and written reports provide opportunities to develop your
communication skills and to master the theory, policy and implementation
elements to EIA.
speakers from the local area provide practitioner perspectives on the role of
EIA in development decisions.
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.
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
· 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.
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.
individually and with a group you will write and present a management plan for
a location of your choosing.
Forest ecology is a science concerned with the form and function of forest ecosystems. As a science, it recognises that forest ecosystems vary in their ecological characteristics with location, and that the forest in any particular location is continually changing – sometimes quite rapidly and sometimes very slowly.
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.
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.
We will endeavour to make all course options available; however, these may be subject to timetabling and other constraints. Please see our InfoHub pages for further information.
How You'll Study
The programme comprises a combination of taught modules, each of which will involve lectures/seminars and practical work. There is a one week residential field course (at Bettyhill, Sutherland) plus several day-long field trips from Aberdeen. Emphasis throughout is on active participation in class discussions, presentations and group work. The individual research project is devised by the student in consultation with a supervisor (a member of the School of Biological Sciences) and often with an external collaborator.
The programme is assessed entirely by continuous assessment. There are no exams. The assessments have been developed to provide training in key transferable skills. For example, a conference presentation, paper review, debate, preparation of a policy brief or chairing a discussion. Additional assessments for more applied courses include an environmental impact assessment and management plan. The final assessment is your project report submitted in the form of a manuscript.
Why Study Ecology and Conservation?
Aberdeen provides you with a unique learning environment with unrivalled access to coastal, mountain and freshwater habitats for both fieldwork and recreation.
The University has a long tradition and excellent reputation for teaching and research in Ecology and is home to one of the largest and most vibrant groups of academics in this subject area in Britain. Masters ecology has been taught here for over 50 years and our generations of graduates are to be found in leadership in ecological professions around the world.
You will be taught by ecologists who are internationally renowned researchers and experts in their field, and who are actively involved in the application of ecological research to environmental management and nature conservation. Our plant and soil ecology group is ranked number 1 in the UK for overall research excellence (REF 2014).
The programme is flexible so that you can choose the extent to which you wish to focus on gaining research skills or applied ecology skills, or to combine both.
The programme is skills-based, meaning that as well as learning theory you will be continually applying that knowledge to real world tasks and situations.
Your project will become a key feature of your CV and is often a first step to further research or a job. In helping you develop your project we enable you to link in to our vast network of colleagues and organisations within the academic, non-governmental, government and industrial sectors.
We look at applications on a case by case basis and in recent years we have also accepted individuals with degrees in a wider range of disciplines who were clearly motivated by the programme and had some work experience in a relevant field.
English Language Requirements
All students entering the University must provide evidence that they can use English well enough to study effectively at the University of Aberdeen.
Details of our English language entry requirements can be found on our English Language Requirements webpages. This programme requires that you meet the College of Life Sciences and Medicine Postgraduate Standard level of English proficiency.
If you have not achieved the required scores, the University of Aberdeen offers pre-sessional English courses. Further details are available on our Language Centre website.
Nationals of some English-speaking countries or those who hold degrees from some English-speaking countries may be exempt from this requirement. Details of countries recognised as English-speaking can be found on our English Language Requirements webpages.
You will be required to supply the following documentation with your application as proof you meet the entry requirements of this degree programme.
an up-to-date CV/Resumé
a degree certificate showing your qualifications
a full transcript showing all the subjects you studied and the marks you have achieved in your degree(s) (original & official English translation)
a detailed personal statement explaining your motivation for this particular programme
In addition to acquiring discipline-specific skills, the course work activities within our programme are designed to provide you with ample opportunity to develop generic skills required by employers including critical thinking, problem-solving, team work, written and oral presentation, time management and interdisciplinarity.
University of Aberdeen ecologists collaborate with colleagues in research institutions all over the world and have active involvement with local, national and international governmental and non-governmental organisations including, for example, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Marine Scotland, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, British Trust for Ornithology, Forestry Commission and Forest Research, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
ERM are a global consultancy with a good reputation… Within the ecology team, they were aware of the Aberdeen MSc Ecology course and knew that it was comprehensive and intensive. I would not have got the job without my MSc.
Assistant Professor in Population Ecology
My education at Aberdeen, specifically the excellent quantitative training, has completely shaped my career. Ecology and environmental sciences in general is becoming increasingly quantitative. I think Aberdeen has been ahead of this curve.
My confidence in my own abilities improved greatly after studying this course at Aberdeen and deciding to continue studying to Masters level was one of the best decisions I have made.
The programme will be delivered by a multidisciplinary team of world renowned and vastly experienced experts in ecology and conservation.
You will be taught by a range of experts including professors, lecturers, teaching fellows and postgraduate tutors. Staff changes will occur from time to time; please see our InfoHub pages for further information.
1st in UK for Soil and Environmental Science
Soil and Environmental Science research at the University of Aberdeen is ranked number 1 in the UK (REF 2014)
Our plant growth facilities include controlled environmental growth chambers and glasshouses for teaching and experimental work.
Cruickshank Botanic Garden
The Cruickshank Botanic Garden is situated on our King's College campus. It is used to support both our teaching and research; existing to promote the diversity and importance of plants and their role in the natural world.
Bettyhill Field Station
This field centre located in Sutherland, one of the most scenic areas of Britain, is used for teaching and research in ecology and environmental sciences.