NBIK12003U Conservation Biology

Volume 2022/2023

MSc Programme in Biology
MSc Programme in Environmental Science
MSc Programme in Forest and Nature Management
MSc Programme in 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.
3e. The advantages and disadvantages of using citizen science to provide data on and highlight conservation issues.

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 rationale 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.

It is recommended that the student has taken courses covering Biodiversity, Population Biology and Mathematical Biology, or equivalent.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.
The lectures take place over 7 weeks (weeks 47-51 and weeks 1-2). 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 completes an on-line assignment. In the last week of the course, each student will complete a 5-page exam essay on a topic of current concern in conservation biology.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 125
  • Theory exercises
  • 18
  • Practical exercises
  • 10
  • Exam
  • 25
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Supervised choice of seminar papers and questions. Feedback from teacher and peers (class) on oral seminar presentation and answers to seminar questions, and collective feedback from teachers and discussion of on-line assignments in the week following completion. Organised feedback on choice of essay topic and at workshops for essay writing. Feedback on essay, presentation and discussion at exam.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 minutes with 20 minutes preparation time
Written assignment, during course
Type of assessment details
The written assignment will be a 5-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 the exam essay, plus an associated question related to one of the overall topics.
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 complete an on-line assignment for each of the first five weeks. Students will receive an informal grade and feedback from teachers on their essays and assignments. All essays and assignments must be completed and approved no later than two weeks before the oral exam, and a full set of approved essays and assignments is a precondition for being allowed to take the exam.

Only certain aids allowed

Written aids, including the students own notes, may be used during the preparation time.

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Two internal examiners

The same as the ordinary exam. A new 5-page essay must be handed in.

The exam registration requirements must be fulfilled if they were not fulfilled for the ordinary exam.

All essays and assignments must be approved no later than three weeks before the oral re-examination.

Criteria for exam assesment

In order to obtain the grade 12 the student should convincingly and accurately demonstrate the knowledge, skills and competences described under Learning Outcome.