NBIK12003U Conservation Biology

Volume 2015/2016

MSc Programme in Nature Management
MSc Programme in Environmental Chemistry and Health
MSc Programme in Forest and Nature Management


The course will provide an introduction to conservation issues, concentrating on their fundamental biological basis, and the role of scientific research in conservation management.

1. The goals of conservation
1a. Threats to biodiversity: Habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation, Invasive species, Exploitation.
1b. What are we trying to protect? Genes, Species, Communities, Habitats, Regions, Ecosystem services.
1c. How do we measure our success or failure? Monitoring schemes and threat categories.

2. The biological basis of conservation
2a. Ecological and behavioural (social) effects of habitat change: metapopulation dynamics, patch connectivity, environmental and demographic stochasticity, Allee and rescue effects.
2b. The (in situ and ex situ) conservation of single gene pools: genetic and behavioural aspects of inbreeding and genetic erosion, evolution after man made changes, how much genetic variation is needed, artificial breeding, reintroduction and translocation programs, genetic management tools.
2c. The conservation of species assemblages: Island biology revisited (area, edge effect and distance), why island biotas are special and vulnerable, management of rich and poor assemblages of species, invasive species and their devastating effects.
2d. Taking long term stability into account: effects of climate and global change, dynamic food-web interactions, population cycles.

3. Practical conservation
3a. The need for scientific information for management strategies: Trade-offs between collecting data and active management.
3b. How to preserve biodiversity? The need for shortcuts: keystone species, flagship species, indicator species, indicator groups, the higher-taxon approach, abiotic indicators (the landscape approach).
3c. Practical harvesting issues in animals and plants: Density-dependence and trophic interactions, migration patterns, harvesting models, disease problems, optimal yield and the tragedy of the commons.
3d. Human activities and how to select nature reserves and management areas – the need for making priorities: the hot-spot of richness approach, the hot-spot of endemism approach, the complementarity approach and the ecosystem approach.

Learning Outcome

This course has a triple objective.
First, to offer a broad conceptually orientated overview of current key issues in conservation biology and to train students in the application of these concepts to practical conservation.
Second, to give students the essential background to be successful in MSc-level jobs in management, administration, and the dissemination of knowledge on Biodiversity and Conservation.
Third, to give those students that continue with MSc and PhD degrees the necessary entry-level for advanced courses on more specific issues.

By completing the course the student can:

Explain the intrinsic value of conservation of species, groups of species and high-biodiversity areas and of the economic realities constraining practical conservation.

Integrate basic knowledge from population ecology, behavioural biology, population genetics, evolutionary biology and macroecology in questions of practical conservation.

Provide a general overview of the population biology of invasive species, of the traits that these species have in common, and of the typical ways in which they threaten native biodiversity.

Relate the key variables for optimal harvesting of economically important populations of wild animals and plants.

By completing the course the student can:

Make qualified contributions to the “priority-driven” conservation management of single species and species assemblages (guilds & communities), taking into account issues of habitat fragmentation, genetic erosion, reproductive value of cohorts and individuals, controlled breeding, reintroduction, and climate change.

Critically assess information from monitoring schemes and similar biodiversity databases for the purpose of conservation of species, groups of species or entire species assemblages of areas.

Explain the rational behind national, European and global conservation initiatives and the impact that they have, and of the difficulties that they face.

Distinguish between scientific results reported in the primary literature and in general textbooks and reports.

By completing the course the student can:
Critically assess the appropriateness of statistical methods and interpretations in the scientific literature.

Explain and evaluate the relative value of experiments, theoretical concepts and the comparative analysis of literature data.

Provide and outline an overview of the field of Conservation and formulate a qualified opinion on the discipline to non-biologists.

Independently retrieve and select information from the scientific literature and other relevant sources.

Present a coherent essay on a topic within the field of conservation biology.

See Absalon.

The lectures take place over 6 weeks (weeks 47-51 and week 2). Each week involves 4 hours of lectures and 2 two-hour theoretical exercises (computer exercises or discussion/presentations of papers). Each week the student hands in a 2-page essay on a paper or a 5-page lab-report based on results from computer exercises. In the last week of the course, each student will complete a five-page essay on a topic of current concern in conservation biology.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 40
  • Lectures
  • 24
  • Practical exercises
  • 6
  • Preparation
  • 118
  • Theory exercises
  • 18
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Oral examination, 20 minutes
The Exam is individual.
The written assignment will be a five-page essay on a topic of current concern in conservation biology, which must be submitted no later than two weeks prior to the oral exam.
The oral examination will be based on one of the items submitted by the student in the first four weeks, plus an associated question related to one of the overall topics (see “general qualifications” above). There is 20 minutes preparation time.
The oral exam and the exam essay must be passed separately, in the same exam period. The oral exam and the exam essay will be given equal weight in the final assessment.
Exam registration requirements

Each student must hand in an individual essay or report for each of the first four weeks. Students will receive an informal grade and feedback from teachers on their essays/reports. All essays and reports must be approved no later than two weeks before the oral exam, and a full set of approved essays or reports is a precondition for being allowed to take the exam.
If the requirement is not fulfilled, all essays and reports must be approved and a new five-page essay must be handed in no later than two weeks before the registration period for reexamination ends.

Only certain aids allowed

All “hardcopy” material brought by the student may be used during the preparation time.

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment

To achieve the grade 12 the student must give an excellent performance displaying a high level of command of all aspects of the relevant material, with no or only a few minor weaknesses. See learning objectives.