BIO8070 : Meta-analysis and Decision Support for Ecology and Conservation

Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0


A wealth of research data is available both via peer-reviewed scientific literature and online from environmental, ecological and wildlife studies. However, making informed decisions based on these data can be challenging: different research studies may have different sample-sizes, aims, objectives, and the amount of information reported may be variable. Search strategies for published data must be done in a rigorous manner to ensure that the data used in subsequent analyses is not inadvertently biased. The module has three main aims. First, to introduce students to the techniques necessary to undertake systematic reviews of the scientific literature – whilst this approach is widely utilised in medicine, it is under-utilised in environmental science. Second, to demonstrate the use of meta-analysis to undertake quantitative assessments of published data, and ensure students understand how to interpret the results. Third, to show that systematic reviews when combined with meta-analysis provide a framework to ensure that decisions made for conservation or wildlife management are robust and objective.

Outline Of Syllabus

• Systematic reviews – why are they needed, approaches, strategies
• History of systematic review and meta-analysis: medicine and ecology/environmental science
• How to undertake a systematic review, use of key words and search terms
• Data management in systematic reviews – what data must be available and recorded in order for it to be useful in subsequent meta-analysis
• How to report systematic reviews – PRISMA diagrams, flowcharts and similar methods
• Basics of meta-analysis, using open-source statistical software
• Balanced and unbalanced data, mixed models
• Publication bias: why do these arise and how to detect them
• Using systematic reviews and meta-analyses to aid environmental decision-making

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture81:008:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical82:0016:00Practical classes using systematic review and meta-analysis software
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study146:0046:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study130:0030:00Student written reports on systematic review and meta-analysis assignment
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The practical classes will be PC-based, and give students experience in first, systematic reviews, and second, meta-analysis. They will be given example exercises uses case studies that address topical environmental issues, so that they can develop their skills in undertaking systematic reviews, and then utilise software systems and/or add-on packages to undertake meta-analysis. They will also be taught how to interpret and present the results of meta-analysis software in a manner suitable for non-specialist readers.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Case study1M100systematic review and meta-analysis on a topic. Approx. 2000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

After students have received the theoretical background in lectures, and obtained practical experience using the software to undertake the systematic reviews and meta-analyses, the case study will provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to apply what they have learnt. Each student will be allocated a topic on which to undertake the systematic review. Separate marks will be allocated for the systematic review and meta-analysis.

Reading Lists