Masters in Ecology, Evolution & Conservation (MSc and MRes)
MSc Course Director:
Dr Julia Schroeder
MRes Course Director:
Dr Richard Gill
The Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (EEC) programme provides a broad education and research training in ecology, evolution and conservation, including first-hand experience in conducting high quality research.
Students will be taught by active researchers throughout the Department and these internationally recognised experts use their own research as model systems to illustrate the fundamental scientific principles that underpin the study topics.
As part of the research projects, students will also get the opportunity to join world class research groups to understand how academic research is carried out and conduct it themselves.
We concentrate on using interdisciplinary approaches and advancements in research tools to address each student's research project questions.
Furthermore, students can take advantage of the international connections and collaborations that we have with other institutions and companies, as well as applying science to practical conservation through working with conservation organisations and research institutes.
MSc and MRes
The programme includes two sister courses, each offering different types of learning experience:
- MSc - includes 20 weeks of taught modules, followed by a five-month research project.
- MRes - shares the first six weeks of taught modules with the MSc, but this is then followed by two five-month research projects.
The MSc course offers a wider range of instruction-based learning across a large set of research areas, allowing you to gain a clear insight into your own research interests from among current research topics.
The MRes course hits the ground running, with a greater focus on learning through first-hand experience of conducting independent research within established lab/field groups, as well as allowing students to specialise on existing research interests.
Both courses offer a strong grounding in postgraduate biological research, equipping students with the necessary skills to proceed to a PhD and establish a career in academia or to pursue a research position with industry, government and non-governmental organisations engaged in research to protect biodiversity.
Most students undertake the EEC course as a full-time one-year programme, but part-time options over two years are available and the course design can easily accommodate this. For a part-time MSc we do ask you to contact Julia Schroeder to discuss timetabling of the tight module elements.
Taught elements and assessment
The taught elements comprise a varied mixture of lectures, practicals, fieldwork, and group workshops, and is comprised of consecutive week-long modules covering different EEC topics.
Taught modules are revised and updated each year to take account of advances in research and to incorporate new research interests, but always cover a balanced mixture of active research in ecology, evolution and conservation.
The first six weeks are shared between the MSc and MRes and provide a fast-paced introduction to key research skills. We teach using open source tools, such as Quantum GIS and R, so that you are able to take both the skills and the software for research with you when you graduate.
MSc & MRes
Week 1: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Induction
Week 2: Field ecology skills
Week 3: Biological computing in R
Week 4: Statistics in R
Week 5: Spatial Analysis and GIS
Week 6: Genomics and bioinformatics
All taught course modules are mandatory for MSc students.
After the first six modules (above), students following the MSc course will then take a further five modules in the Autumn term. The spring term includes a further eight topic modules and a two-week individual research project in preparation for the summer research project and to gain experience in 'research thinking'.
Current modules outside of the core skills weeks are: i) speciation and the evolution of diversity, ii) conservation economics, iii) genomics and bioinformatics, iv) genome evolution, v) fungal biology, vi) demography in conservation, vii) applied biocontrol, viii) applied evolution and pest management, ix) phylogenetics and evolution, x) advanced topics in statistics, xi) ecology and global change, xii) behavioural ecology, and xiii) Field trip to Lundy Island, off the Devon coast.
Assessment of the taught course for MSc students counts for 50% of the overall degree grade and is based on written exams (30% from two essay papers and one data interpretation exam) and four pieces of assessed coursework (20%). The coursework provides training in research skills and scientific communication and currently includes: a habitat management poster and elevator pitch, research grant preparation, a short independent research project report and a conference-style research presentation. Research projects count for 50% of the overall degree grade.
Students are expected to attend the first six-week modules (above), but will not be examined on these. MRes students are only assessed on their two research projects, with the marks from the two projects counting equally towards the degree.
Research projects and assessment
Each research project runs for close to five months. Students can: i) choose from a database of advertised projects that have been proposed by research group leaders (from Imperial and external partners institutes/universities), or ii) students can develop their own ideas and sought support from researchers to act as hosts and supervisors.
The project database is frequently updated as research groups develop research interests and portfolios. This ensures that projects are both novel and at the cutting edge of their discipline, whilst providing a range of projects tackling outstanding questions and issues that span the core areas of ecology, evolution and conservation.
Typically, research projects are arranged though informal discussion with research leaders after starting the course. This gives the student the opportunity to explore different options and gain experience before committing to a topic.
We do not force students to work on a specific project and neither do we force a group leader to supervise specific students, instead we rely on students initiating discussions with potential supervisors and choosing a project that excites and motivates them. To date, we have always had more projects to offer than number of students - so there is plenty of interesting research to choose from.
The key learning objectives of the research projects are to:
i) provide extensive training in research skills that can involve desk-based (such as data mining and modelling skills), lab or field studies;
ii) understand how to raise and test hypotheses, whilst also combining exploratory approaches;
iii) design and plan experiments;
iv) become confident in conducting quantitative data analyses, and develop analytical pipelines and statistical models;
v) experience how a research group works together to address common questions, problem solve and create new experimental setups/protocols;
vi) learn how to disseminate research findings through writing a scientific report/manuscript and oral presentations;
vii) improve time management and communication skills.
There is plenty of opportunity for students to carry out projects in partnership with external organisations. This includes the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Natural History Museum, the Institute of Zoology and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. It has also included a wide range of other research organisations across the globe.
Research project assessment
Each project is assessed based on a combination of your performance within the research group (20% of project mark (10% of total degree mark)), the project report (60%), oral presentation (20%) and a project viva (10%).
The performance mark is given by the project supervisor, and the report, presentation and viva are assessed by two academics at Silwood Park who act as independent examiners.
Our aim is for students to conduct novel research that contributes to new scientific knowledge, and our objective is to teach the importance of effectively disseminating research to a wider audience. Students will learn the skills needed to effectively advertise and communicate their research, for instance through manuscript preparation for peer-review journals and oral presentations of work at conferences.
We are very proud with the EEC course's excellent track record of student work being published in international peer review journals. Here is just a selection of Silwood Masters students' publications over the past five years, with student names in bold and supervisor names in bold and italics:
DB Smith, AN Arce, A Ramos Rodrigues, PH Bischoff, D Burris, F Ahmed, RJ Gill Insecticide exposure during brood or early-adult development reduces brain growth and impairs adult learning in bumblebees. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 287 (1922), 20192442
Yunke Peng, Keith J. Bloomfield and Iain Colin Prentice. A theory of plant function helps to explain leaf-trait and productivity responses to elevation. New Phytologist
Wiederkehr, Wilkinson, Zeng, Yeo, Ewers, O'Gorman. (in press) Urbanisation affects ecosystem functioning more than structure in tropical streams. Biological Conservation
Stewart, P.S., Voskamp, A., Biber, M.F., Hof, C., Willis, S.G., Tobias, J.A. (submitted) Global impacts of climate change on avian functional diversity. Global Change Biology.
Pathak, A., Nowell, R.W., Wilson, C.G., Ryan, M.J., Barraclough, T.G. Comparative genomics of Alexander Fleming’s celebrated fungus Penicillium rubens (IMI 15378) reveals sequence divergence of penicillin synthesis genes. In revision Sci. Reports.
Osborne OG, Kafle T, Brewer T, Dobreva MP, Hutton I, Savolainen V. Sympatric speciation in Mountain Roses (Metrosideros) on an oceanic island. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Guy, P., I.C. Prentice and S. Smart (2020) Drivers of vascular plant species area relationships in British broadleaved woodlands and their effects on the species area curve. bioRxiv 943282.
Dongyang Wei, I. Colin Prentice and Sandy P. Harrison The climatic space of European pollen taxa. Ecology
Cator LJ, Johnson LR, Mordecai EA, El Moustaid F, Smallwood T, La Deau S, Johansson M, Hudson PJ, Boots M, Thomas MB, Power AG, & Pawar S. More than a flying syringe: Using functional traits in vector borne disease research. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
Benítez-López, A., Santini, L., Gallego-Zamorano, J., Mila, B., Walkden, P., Huijbregts, M., Tobias, J.A. (submitted) The island rule explains consistent patterns of body size evolution across terrestrial vertebrates. Nature Ecol. Evol.
D Kenna, H Cooley, I Pretelli, A Ramos Rodrigues, SD Gill, RJ Gill Pesticide exposure affects flight dynamics and reduces flight endurance in bumblebees. Ecology and Evolution 9 (10), 5637-5650
Woon, J. S., M. J. W. Boyle, R. M. Ewers, A. Chung, and P. Eggleton. Termite environmental tolerances are more linked to desiccation than temperature in modified tropical forests. Insectes Sociaux 66:57-64.
Wei, D., P. González-Sampériz, G. Gil-Romera, S.P. Harrison and I.C. Prentice. Climate changes in interior semi-arid Spain from the last interglacial to the late Holocene. Climate of the Past Discussions.
TP Smith, T J H Thomas, B Garcia-Carreras, S Sal, G Yvon-Durocher, T Bell, and S Pawar. Community-Level Respiration of Prokaryotic Microbes May Rise with Global Warming, Nature Communications, 10
Schmutzer, M., Barraclough, T.G. The role of recombination, local versus global gene pools, and flexible genomes in the ecological speciation of bacteria. Ecology and Evolution. 9: 4544-4556
Qie, L., E. M. Telford, M. R. Massam, H. Tangki, R. Nilus, A. Hector, and R. M. Ewers. Drought cuts back regeneration in logged tropical forests. Environmental Research Letters 14:8.
Qie, L., A. D. Elsy, A. Stumvoll, M. Kwasnicka, A. L. Peel, J. A. Sullivan, M. S. Ettinger, A. J. Robertson, J. K. Brisbane, A. L. Sawyer, Y. N. Lui, S. Ngim Ow, M. Sebastianelli, B. Majcher, M. Duan, H. Vigus, G. Pounsin, R. Nilus, and R. Ewers. Impending regeneration failure of the IUCN Vulnerable Borneo Ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri). Tropical Conservation Science 12:1940082918823353.
Orme, C. D. L., S. Mayor, L. dos Anjos, P. F. Develey, J. H. Hatfield, J. C. Morante-Filho, J. M. Tylianakis, A. Uezu, and C. Banks-Leite. Distance to range edge determines sensitivity to deforestation. Nature Ecology & Evolution 3:886-891.
Matsushima W, Brink K, Schroeder J, Miska E, Gapp K. Mature sperm small RNA profile in the sparrow: implications for transgenerational effects of age on fitness. Environmental Epigenetics, 5, 1–11.
Latorre M, Nakagawa S, Burke T, Plaza M, Schroeder J. No evidence for kin recognition in a passerine bird. PlosOne
Heon, S. P., P. M. Chapman, H. Bernard, and R. M. Ewers. Small logging roads do not restrict movements of forest rats in Bornean logged forests. Biotropica 51:412-420.
Girndt A, Cockburn G, Sánchez Tójar A, Hertel M, Burke T, Schroeder J. Male age and its association with reproductive traits in captive and wild house sparrows. Journal for Evolutionary Biology.
Chapman, P. M., R. Loveridge, J. M. Rowcliffe, C. Carbone, H. Bernard, C. W. Davison, and R. M. Ewers. Minimal spillover of native small mammals from Bornean tropical forests into adjacent oil palm plantations. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 2:373-380.
Boothby C, Redfern C, Schroeder J. An evaluation of canes as a management technique to reduce predation by gulls on ground nesting seabirds. Ibis, 161, 453 458.
REJ Gray, RM Ewers, MJW Boyle, AYC Chung, RJ Gill Effect of tropical forest disturbance on the competitive interactions within a diverse ant community. Scientific Reports 8 (1), 1-12
AN Arce, A Ramos Rodrigues, J Yu, TJ Colgan, Y Wurm, RJ Gill Foraging bumblebees acquire a preference for neonicotinoid-treated food with prolonged exposure. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 285 (1885), 20180655
Schroeder J, Winney I, Bennett S, Sánchez-Tójar A, Girndt A The secret life of the Lundy house sparrows. J. Lundy Field Soc. 6, 101-104.
Sanchez-Tójar, A. Nakagawa, S, Sanchez-Fortun, M, Martin, DC, Ramini S, Girndt A, Bokony V, Kempenaers B, Liker A, Westneat D, Burke T, Schroeder J. Meta-analysis challenges a textbook example of status signaling: evidence for publication bias. eLife, Doi: 10.7554/eLife.37385
Rizzuto, M., Carbone, C. & Pawar, S. Foraging constraints reverse the scaling of activity time in carnivores. Nature Ecol. Evol. 2, 247–253.
Nowell, R.W., Almeida, P., Wilson, C.G., Smith, T.P., Fontaneto, D., Crisp, A., Micklem, G., Tunnaclife, A., Boschetti, C., Barraclough, T.G. Comparative genomics of bdelloid rotifers: Insights from desiccating and nondesiccating species. PLoS Biology 16: e2004830
Lang B, Igdobe S, McManus K, Qureshi A & Cator LJ. The effect of larval diet on adult survival, swarming activity, and copulation success in male Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology 55(1):29-35.
Hatfield, J. H., C. D. L. Orme, J. A. Tobias, and C. Banks-Leite. 2018. Trait-based indicators of bird species sensitivity to habitat loss are effective within but not across data sets. Ecological Applications 28:28-34.
Girndt A, Chng CWT, Burke T, Schroeder J. Male age is associated with extra-pair paternity, but not with extra-pair mating behaviour. Sci Rep, 8:8378. Doi:10.1038/s41598-018-26649-1.
AN Arce, TI David, EL Randall, A Ramos Rodrigues, TJ Colgan, Y Wurm, RJ Gill Impact of controlled neonicotinoid exposure on bumblebees in a realistic field setting. Journal of Applied Ecology 54 (4), 1199-1208
Twining, J. P., H. Bernard, and R. M. Ewers. Increasing land-use intensity reverses the relative occupancy of two quadrupedal scavengers. PLoS ONE 12:e0177143.
Parau LG, Kingma SA, Weigl SE, Dugdale HL, Lessells CM, Schroeder J. Dynamics in numbers of group-roosting individuals in relation to pair-sleeping occurrence and onset of egg-laying in European Bee-eaters Merops apiaster. J. Ornithol. 158, 1119¬–1122. DOI: 10.1007/s10336-017-1468-1.
Osborne OG, De-Kayne R, Bidartondo MI, Hutton I, Baker WJ, Turnbull CGN, Savolainen V. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi promote coexistence and niche divergence of sympatric palm species on a remote oceanic island. New Phytologist 2017, 217:1254-1266
Girndt A, Cockburn G, Sanchez-Tojar A, Lovelie H, Schroeder J. Methods matter: experimental evidence for shorter avian sperm in faecal compared to abdominal massage samples. Plos ONE 12(8): e0182853. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182853
Dunn N, Priestley V, Herraiz A, Arnold R, Savolainen V. Behavior and season affect crayfish detection and density inference using environmental DNA. Ecology and Evolution 2017, 30:224
Swift DG, Dunning LT, Igea J, Brooks EJ, Jones CS, Noble LR, Ciezarek A, Humble E, Savolainen V. Evidence of positive selection associated with placental loss in tiger sharks. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2016, 16
Neate-Clegg, M. H. C., E. C. Morshuis, and C. Banks-Leite. Edge effects in the avifaunal community of riparian rain-forest tracts in Tropical North Queensland. Journal of Tropical Ecology 32:280-289.
Loveridge, R., O. R. Wearn, M. Vieira, H. Bernard, and R. M. Ewers. Movement behavior of native and invasive small mammals shows logging may facilitate invasion in a tropical rain forest. Biotropica 48:373-380.
Jordan, S.M., Barraclough, T.G., Rosindell, J. Quantifying the effects of the break up of Pangaea on global terrestrial diversification with neutral theory. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. 371: 20150221
Humphreys, A.M., Rydin, C., Jønsson, K.A., Alsop, D., Callender‐Crowe, L.M., Barraclough, T.G. Detecting evolutionarily significant units above the species level using the generalised mixed Yule coalescent method. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. 11: 1366-1375
Ciezarek AG, Dunning LT, Jones CS, Noble LR, Humble E, Stefanni S, Savolainen V. Substitutions in the glycogenin-1 gene are associated with the evolution of endothermy in sharks and tunas. Genome Biology & Evolution 2016, 8:3011-3021
Silwood is a welcoming campus with a friendly close-knit community, and students will form part of a large postgraduate research community of around 150 postgraduate students (PhDs and Masters) and 100 research staff. The EEC programme has around 50 students each year: small enough to get to know everyone and large enough to provide a supportive community.
Silwood is at the forefront of international research on ecology, evolution and conservation. The site has excellent scientific facilities, including a genomics lab, microbiology building, high-spec controlled environment rooms, greenhouses, workshop and communal areas, multiple lecture theatres, computer suite, library, wet and dry labs for experimental work and office space for students. Uniquely, Silwood also has unrivalled opportunities for fieldwork afforded by its extensive grounds, and has one of the largest aquatic mesocosm facilities in Europe.
Students will work within a world-class research environment, attend seminars by leading international researchers and be trained in state-of-the-art research techniques. We can offer accommodation on site in reasonably priced single rooms and a limited number of shared flats.
How to apply
The course is primarily intended for graduates with an undergraduate degree equivalent to at least an upper second-class (2.i) honours in a biological, environmental or related science subject. For those not meeting the above criteria, we are happy to discuss applications who have developed strong experience in biology through work experience.
All applications to the program are online through the Imperial College London application site. You should read the application instructions carefully before submitting your application. If you are applying from overseas, please take note of any English requirements and the country by country guidance on which degree grades are considered equivalent to a UK second class honours.
If you have any questions about your application or about the course, please don't hesitate to email the applications administrator David Orme or the course administrator Beverly Kayser and they will either directly answer your query or pass it on to the relevant person(s).
We maintain a website of advice on funding postgraduate study at Imperial College London including the Basil Furneaux Memorial Fund for current or past Imperial students, providing competitive scholarship programmes that provide support to academically excellent students who might otherwise have been deterred from postgraduate study because of financial constraints.
PhDs and employment
We have an excellent track record of EEC students successfully being offered PhD positions at prestigious and international universities and research institutions. A selection* includes:
UK & other European universities: Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, UCL, Durham, Bristol, Manchester, Southampton, Bern (Switz.), Lausanne (Switz.), East Anglia, ETH Zurich (Switz.), Queens University Belfast, York, Stirling, Copenhagen, Sheffield.
N. American universities: Princeton, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Delaware,
Australasian universities: James Cook, Auckland
Asian Universities: Hong Kong, NU Singapore
Other research institutions: NHM London, Zoological Society London, CEH
Imperial works closely with employers and industry, and all Masters courses are designed with employer needs in mind.
A selection* of employers that students have gone to work for include:
Syngenta, CABI, Oxitec, South East Asian Rainforest Research Partnership, WWF, Royal Society, British Antarctic Survey, Royal Society of Biology, Defra
Universities: Imperial, Exeter, Sheffield.
* please note the list is still being updated.