Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Conservation (Trec) Field Course
Academic Year
Semester 1
Mutually Exclusive
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 9 hours prior to field trip
Other 10 day field work
Practical Approximately 24 hours practicals/assessments prior to field trip


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Field notebook and prepare herbarium vouchers  The field notebook will contain: * Field notes and analysis for each of the research projects undertaken. *A synopsis of the lectures and seminars held during the field course.  40%
Semester Assessment Scientific report  That covers the development and ecological application of a morphological key and phylogeny to understand life history traits of conservation value.  60%
Supplementary Assessment Field notebook and prepare herbarium vouchers  Students must take elements of assessment equivalent to those that led to failure of the module.  40%
Supplementary Assessment Scientific report  Students must take elements of assessment equivalent to those that led to failure of the module.  60%

Learning Outcomes

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

1. Develop keys for the identification of morphologically similar taxa.

2. Carry out field surveys of plants, fungi and animals in tropical environments.

3. Collect plant samples for DNA barcoding and prepare herbarium specimens.

4. Describe the location, composition, structure and threats facing tropical forests.

5. Analyse morphological and molecular data and use this to create phylogenies.

6. Apply plant taxonomy and bioinventory as part of ecological research to support conservation management of habitats.

Brief description

The TREC field course will provide students with research training in bioinventory, ecology and conservation in tropical forests. A key element of this is the difficulty of identification of species, especially in a highly diverse habitat. The students will gain core skills in how to classify complex taxa from first principles and use this to facilitate subsequent ecological research. During the module students will analyse DNA barcode data and utilise this in order to aid traditional morphological approaches. Having established this methodology they will use these new skills to answer novel scientific questions of conservation value.

The students learn about research in ecology and conservation by being involved from day 1 in the process. The course will also build an appreciation of the threats facing tropical environments and the challenges facing their conservation.


Week 1: Based at AU

Will be a combination of lectures and practicals during which students will:
1. Gain an understanding of bioinventory and phylogenetics utilising morphological and molecular approaches.
2. Learn the skills required to identify morphologically similar species. This will involve developing morphological character sets, diagnostic keys and subsequently relate this to species delimitation using DNA barcode data. These analyses will then be used to answer ecological questions of conservation relevance.
3. Develop an appreciation of tropical forest ecology, the conservation issues surrounding them and the challenges related to conducting research in a tropical environment.

Weeks 2 and 3: Field course based in a tropical research station such as the Danau Girang Field Station, in Sabah, Borneo.

During the field course students will apply the skills and knowledge gained during week 1 to study the ecology of a range of tropical rainforest plant communities. The skills of collecting, recording and preparing plant samples for DNA barcoding and herbarium specimen creation will be further developed. These specimens will form the basis for a taxonomic study allowing the development of a working system of plant identification in the field. This is required to enable student-led research to focus on examining changes in plant community structure over time in a fragmented forest landscape composed of both primary and secondary forest and other land uses. Group based investigations will focus on aspects of life history strategies and plant-animal interactions within a tropical forest. This includes topics such as:
1. Seed structure and dispersal ecology.
2. Pollinators, pollination syndromes and floral morphology.
3. Herbivory and grazing deterrents.
4. Fungi and decomposition

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Data analysis is a key element of the scientific report.
Communication Two different forms of written communication are assessed. The ability to record fieldwork so that data can be collated and used for publication (assessment 1). Writing for a scientific audience (assessment 2).
Improving own Learning and Performance Week 1 is a set of assessed formative tasks designed to enhance performance during the subsequent fieldwork.
Information Technology The molecular analysis during week 1 will introduce the students to a novel set of software to align DNA sequences and create phylogenetic trees.
Personal Development and Career planning The identification of morphologically complex taxa is a highly desirable skill often tested during ecological related job interviews. Travelling to and conducting fieldwork within a challenging environment helps build confidence and resilience.
Problem solving Development and use of a diagnostic key and corresponding this with the molecular data.
Research skills Carrying out field research in a tropical environment.
Subject Specific Skills Plant identification and field survey skills.
Team work Students will work within teams to carry out research in a tropical forest environment.


This module is at CQFW Level 6