Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Ecological Surveying
Academic Year
Semester 2
BR12920 or BR10810 Pre req: Either/Or (BS10810, BS13710, BS13810, RS10310, RS11720)
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 15 x 1 hour lectures (three per week during first five weeks of Semester)
Practical 4 x 3 hour small mammal practicals
Other Mid-term test 1.5 hours
Other 5-day field course (total 50 hours, during Easter vacation)


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Mid-term test.  1.5 hour test, essay plus short answer questions.  30%
Semester Assessment Small mammal practical report.  10%
Semester Assessment Field course assessments.  20%
Semester Assessment Field course research report.  40%
Supplementary Assessment Students must take elements of assessment equivalent to those that led to failure of the module.  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. appreciate current thinking about the nature of plant communities within landscapes

2. employ the terms used in plant and community identification and be confident in the field identification of a range of plants and animals.

3. appreciate the need for biological recording schemes and devise appropriate sampling strategies and recommend sampling techniques for a range of species, habitats and circumstances.

4. undertake a community survey, present and analyze their data. Summarizing results to appropriate scientific standards.

Brief description

The module describes how plant communities are inter-related at the landscape scale. Within the landscape exists the basic matrix which includes patches of communities or complex mosaics. Both reflect the pattern of resources and constraints that occur within the landscape (in time and space). Landscapes can behave like "supersystems" and connectivity is important in their functioning. Populations of individual species may not be isolated, but form metapopulations which contribute to their stability. Changes in communities over time are considered looking at succession and "climax" vegetation. Human and natural phenomena affecting plant communities are considered and students will learn how to identify species and surveying skills in a range of contrasting Welsh habitats. Students will engage in five days of surveying skills during the Easter vacation. There will be no additional costs incurred but participants must organise their own accommodation.


The module elaborates modern themes in community ecology. The nature of the community is discussed and how plant communities are inter-related at the landscape scale. Within the landscape it is possible to determine a basic matrix within which patches of other community types are encountered. Alternatively, complex mosaics may occur. Both reflect the pattern of resources and constraints that occur within a particular landscape in both time and space. In effect, landscapes can behave like "supersystems". Connectivity is important in the functioning of integrated landscapes, while populations of individual species may not be isolated, but rather, form metapopulations which contribute to their long-term stability.

Changes in communities over time are considered. Communities are not static, but change, often in apparently predictable ways. They may be directed by the sequence of species present (autogenic), or driven by environmental conditions that change over time (allogenic). The resource-ratio hypothesis has been suggested as the mechanism for "climax" vegetation, but multiple end points of change are evident within many areas.

Both human and natural phenomena affecting plant communities are considered. Grazing animals may show a high incidence of specialisation in shaping the composition of plant communities while fire naturally causes biomass removal in many landscapes. Human use may represent simple biomass removal, as in hay regimes, alternatively, it may be selective removing particular species or particular groups of individuals (such as a size class) for a particular use, thereby affecting the community. The description of plant communities and their distribution in space is discussed based on both numerical (ordination and classification) and descriptive phytosociological (represented by NVC) approaches.

For developing practical experience the students will be expected to :
i) Conduct a small mammal survey from week eight onwards: this will involve trapping and assessing small mammal populations locally.
ii) Undertake a local five day field course (during the Easter vacation). The aim is to establish expertise in plant species identification in a range of contrasting Welsh habitats including hedgerows and deciduous woodlands.

Students will receive guidance and instruction on the various techniques available for sampling and population assessment strategies (plants and animals). They will also describe communities and will look at soil characteristics.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Collection of data, analysis and interpretation of survey data for field assessments.
Communication Assessed presentations during field course (integrated into main assessment).
Improving own Learning and Performance Learning targeted in such a way as to improve performance over time. Examples of exam questions provided throughout module. Marks feedback and progress provided during field course.
Information Technology Use of on-line resources.
Personal Development and Career planning Provides practical skills and insight into surveying. Essential skills for any student interested in an Environmental career / Conservation.
Problem solving Analysis of samples and data. Synthesis and assessments in practicals.
Research skills Additional reading to support lecture content and researching for field assessments.
Subject Specific Skills Identification of plants and animals
Team work Group learning activities during the surveying days to develop team skills. Group collection of data for field assessment.


This module is at CQFW Level 5