Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

BIOL3070 Tropical Ecology Field Course

Module Overview

This module will provide first-hand experience of ecology and conservation in a tropical environment and give you a foundation in a range of topics including biodiversity, community ecology, ecosystem processes, anthropogenic impacts, in-situ and ex-situ conservation, and protected areas. Tropical forests are some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and play critical roles in global biogeochemical cycles and climate regulation. However, they are undergoing rapid transformation through deforestation and land-use change. Alongside developing research skills this module will provide an opportunity for students to develop an understanding of how these ecosystems function and an appreciation of conservation and management of tropical forests. The two-week field course will take place in Belize, Central America. We will visit 3 key sites, including the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre and the Las Cuevas Research Station. The Las Cuevas Research Station will be the primary field site and is located within the Chiquibul forest, which is part of the largest block of intact tropical forest north of the Amazon. Throughout the course there will be a strong emphasis on practical training. Key topics will be introduced during a series of lectures and talks, and then developed through workshops and structured field activities. The first half of the course will be spent learning about ecological and conservation issues and key equipment and field techniques for monitoring and conducting biodiversity surveys. Students will then use the remaining time to design and carry out their own supervised small group research projects. This module is the Biological Sciences coded module for the ENVS3022 Tropical Ecology and Conservation Field Course

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Describe characteristic features of tropical forests
  • Identify key fauna and flora that are important and/or characteristic to tropical forests
  • Describe the importance of tropical forests as centres of biodiversity and ecological processes
  • Identify current conservation issues, and evaluate ways that impacts may be mitigated
  • Explain the challenges of field research in a tropical location
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Apply ecological survey techniques and assessment methods for a range of taxa and processes
  • Use identification keys and field guides to identify unfamiliar taxa
  • Demonstrate knowledge of assessing risk in field environments and write a risk assessment for research project
  • Critically review published literature and experimental design
  • Manage and analyse field data, using Excel, R and EstiamteS
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Interact effectively in a group, being prepared to take different roles within a team: leader, contributor and communicator
  • Communicate research results as a written paper/report
  • Discuss the role of tropical forests in ecological, social and economic contexts
  • Demonstrate creativity and enthusiasm for field work, design of data collections and for qualitative analysis
  • Appreciate the ethics of scientific research in tropical environments


In preparation for the field course, lectures and tutorials will be held to provide: an introduction to the module, an overview of tropical ecology and conservation practices, travel health and safety, and risk assessment for fieldwork. During the field course, the first week will introduce the flora and fauna of the region and develop skills in survey techniques and assessment methods through a series of workshops and group exercises. The second week will be devoted to independent research projects (supervised by teaching staff) carried out in small groups. These projects will allow the development of investigative and analytical skills alongside data management and analysis. Throughout field course, evening lectures will cover selected topics in tropical ecology, diversity and conservation practices. As typical with field courses the precise subject matter will depend on the experiences in the field and as such the syllabus can be tailored to interested of individual students (i.e. students with interests in ecology or interests environmental change and management). We can expect to cover topics in: 1) Regional biogeography 2) Tropical forest diversity 3) Forest dynamics 4) Biotic interactions 5) Ecosystem processes 6) Anthropogenic impacts 7) In-situ and ex-situ conservation 8) Conservation practices 9) Protected area management 10) Risk assessment for fieldwork 11) Survey techniques

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Prior to the field course, a series of formal lectures and workshops will introduce the module, provide an overview to tropical ecology, conservation practices, travel health and safety and risk assessment processes. Students are also expected to engage with a series of set reading material prior to departure. During the 14/15-day field course, teaching and learning will be achieved through: 1) Talk/discussion sessions: that will provide detail and theory on topics such as regional biogeography, tropical forest diversity, forest dynamics, biotic interactions, anthropogenic impacts and conservation practices. 2) Fieldwork and field activities: the fieldwork component will be split into structured group activities based around demonstrating field techniques and practice and site orientation during the first week, and small group independent project work (supervised by teaching staff) during week two, which will put into practice material learned and develop knowledge and understanding of topics. Research projects be presented at the end of the trip and written up as short reports/research papers. 3) Field notebook: Throughout the course students will be required to collate records of species sightings and write a reflective account of activities and experiences.

Wider reading or practice76
Practical classes and workshops6
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Kricher, J. (1999). Neotropical Companion: An Introduction to the Animals, Plants and Ecosystems of the New World Tropics. 

Journal of Tropical Ecology. Journal

PNAS. Journal

Nature, Science. Journal

Ghazoul, J. and Sheil, D. (2010). Tropical rain forest ecology, diversity, and conservation. 

Conservation Biology. Journal

Jones, L. (2003). Birds of Belize. 

Biotropica. Journal

Peh, K.S-H. (2015). Routledge Handbook of Forest Ecology. 

Bridgewater, S. (2012). A Natural History of Belize: Inside the Maya Forest. 

Biological Conservation. Journal

Osborne, P. (2012). Tropical ecosystems and ecological concepts. 

Whitmore, T. (1990). An introduction to tropical rain forests. 

Barrett, C. B. & Cason J (2010). Overseas Research II: a practical guide. 

Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Journal

Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. Journal

Tropical Conservation Science. Journal

Reid, F.A. (2009). Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico. 


Assessment Strategy

1. Field notebook/journal: 20% 2. Small group research project execution: 30% 3. Individual written project report: 50%


Individual risk assessment


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 50%
Written assessment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 50%
Written assessment  ( words) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Desirable module taken in year 2: New Forest Field Course BIOL2041 This module is the BIOL version of ENVS3022.


To study this module, you will need to have studied the following module(s):

BIOL1003Ecology & Evolution
BIOL1001Experimental and Field Biology


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of field notebooks, and of producing their project reports to fulfil the academic requirements for this programme of study.

Field Trips

This is an optional Level 6 residential field course and as such costs will incurred consistent with overseas courses – specifically, the student will pay for the cost of their travel (including airport transfers), subsistence and accommodation, plus in-country transportation.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings