NES8010 : Quantitative Ecological Research Methods

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


Understanding approaches and development of skills in academic and ecological research, survey and consultancy, including proposal writing, project planning, sampling design, scientific reporting, statistical analysis and modelling.
A unique module taking students through practical, technical and statistical approaches to survey design and description of ecological change in marine and terrestrial habitats and species.

Outline Of Syllabus

Ecological sampling and survey design: Planning and delivering biological surveys, implementation of ecological sampling methods, interpretation of data on richness, diversity, extent and rarity in relation to spatial scale. Developing research questions and detecting and addressing systematic sampling error. Introduction to R including data manipulation and analysis and tidy data methods. Revision of basic statistical terms and assumptions.

Data analysis and Modelling: Multivariate modelling, Data exploration and analysis of community data in R and PRIMER. Regression and mixed effects models, Structural Equation Modelling using the latest packages in R, Practical modelling approaches for analysing natural systems using the generalised linear model framework.

Option A (numbers capped at 24 – preference given to IMEC students)

Boat based sampling: Planning and delivering boat based surveys, hard and soft substrata. Cost-effectiveness in sampling strategy and methods, interpretation of data as above. Introduction to novel methods (1 day). Group exercise on project design.

Option B

Vertebrate population assessment: Survey design and data analysis of established methods for population assessment and monitoring with both field and exercise based examples (including camera trapping, CMR and analysis of GPS data). Methods include spatial analysis and understanding of detection probability in models.

Policy relevance: Communicating uncertainty for policy makers and decision makers.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion130:0030:008 page data analysis report (12 pt Times Roman single space, approx. 2000 words with plots & table)
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion130:0030:008 page project design report (12pt Times Roman single space, approx. 2000 words with plots & tables)
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion130:0030:00Follow up to workshops – Includes background reading and review of lecture notes.
Guided Independent StudySkills practice103:0030:00Data handling, descriptive statistics, multivariate analysis, generalised linear modelling
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops13:003:00Evidence for Policy/ communicating uncertainty (APHA) workshops/seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork38:0024:00Fieldwork / Workshops. Practical survey design and data collection and analysis
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork28:0016:00Practical skill development of survey methods
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork38:0024:00Shore based ecological survey and sampling at Dove Marine
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study113:0013:00Data analysis and modelling exercises
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

A series of workshops which will be formed of a mix of seminars, class discussion, computing practicals and fieldwork teaching will be used to introduce several key environmental research techniques. Students will work in small groups for practical and fieldwork and class presentation of results, and participate in group discussion. Use of worked examples on statistical methods and data manipulation, introduced in practical sessions, and followed up on in students' own time will supplement teaching in practicals and workshops. Workshops will cover statistical application, working through problem solving exercises in groups and provide the hands-on training experience to enable students to develop ecological models from first principles. Student-led problem-solving leads to independent study

Practical classes provide the learning environment for students to develop key transferable practical skills in statistics, field and boat based survey methods. These classes allow students to practise their skills as they explore a range of exercises (ISO1-3). Seminars and class discussion provide feedback during development of these skills. The strong emphasis on quantitative and practical skills reflects what is required in the workplace. However, they need to be underpinned by a sound theoretical understanding of principles. The workshops and practicals are integrated so that they mutually reinforce each other.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Report1M50Data Analysis Report. 8 page, 2000 words, on ecological data analysis problem
Report1M50Quantitative Methods Report. 8 page, 2000 words, on survey methods and analysis.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The written data analysis report will assess the students depth of knowledge and understanding of the statistical approaches taught. The students will work through numerical exercises and provide visualisation and interpretation of the results.

Practical classes provide formative assessment of students’ progress in developing transferable practical skills in numerical methods, field and boat based survey methods, and spatial processing and interpretation by means of seminars and workbook materials which allow students to assess their skills as they explore a range of exercises.

Subsequently, the quantitative methods report provides a summative assessment of the development of their practical computer and numeracy skills in an ecological context.

These transferable skills are most valuable in the job market and thus the primary focus is on developing and assessing these.

Reading Lists