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NES2309 : Evolutionary Biology

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Isabel Smallegange
  • Lecturer: Dr Evelyn Jensen
  • Owning School: Natural and Environmental Sciences
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


This module introduces students to several major principles of modern evolutionary biology. We start with a theoretical basis and practical understanding of molecular evolution, enabling students to ‘speak the language’ of modern genomic biology and answer questions on rates and patterns of molecular evolution to understand population histories. The module then covers quantitative genetics, adaptation, different types and levels of selection, exploring in more depth the evolution of sex and sexual selection. Going beyond the “modern synthesis” of genetics and natural selection, we conclude the module by providing a fuller account of the ways that evolution works through developmental plasticity, niche construction and cultural transmission in animals, introducing students to the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis as we assess current developments in this dynamic field.

Outline Of Syllabus


Lectures will cover major themes in evolutionary biology that may include:
Molecular markers and their uses
Allele dynamics and populations
Rates and patterns of molecular evolution
Quantitative genetics
Adaptive dynamics
Levels of selection
Evolution of sex
Sexual selection
Developmental plasticity
Niche construction
Cultural evolution
Extended Evolutionary Synthesis

The lectures are supported by:
the book ‘Evolution’ by Douglas J. Futuyma & Mark Kirkpatrick. 4th edition. 2017.
the book ‘Life: the Science of Biology (International Edition)’. David M. Hillis, H. Craig Heller, Sally D. Hacker, David W. Hall, Marta J. Laskowski, and David E. Sadava. 2020.


Genetic data analyses
Introduction to evolutionary rescue computer assignment

ASSIGNMENT (summative)

The assignment on trait evolution and evolutionary rescue comprises a computer practical followed by self-study to investigate how, facing current global change, evolutionary mechanisms can help maintain biodiversity. In the assignment, students study evolutionary rescue in their chosen study organism to investigate how selection of new traits in populations collapsing with environmental changes allow for a demographic bounce and population persistence. The results are written up in a report (4000 words max).

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion12:002:00Exam completion.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion12:002:00Canvas quizzes and mock exam
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion170:0070:00Summative assessment 'trait evolution and evolutionary rescue' (report; 4000 words max; 5 weeks allowed for this)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture181:0018:00Lectures.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical13:003:00Computer practical genetic data analyses.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical33:009:00Q&A trait evolution assignment computer lab.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical15:005:00Computer practical as part of summative assessment 'trait evolution and evolutionary rescue'
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops31:003:00Classroom workshop quizzes
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery91:009:00Weekly drop in for Q&A on Zoom
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study13:003:00Preparation for practical.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study180:309:00Exam revision
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study181:0018:00Routine lecture follow up (calculated as 1 h per hour of lecture time)
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study149:0049:00Study of lectures, RECAP, Canvas reading, etc.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures provide fundamental knowledge and understanding of evolutionary biology and a broad awareness of the applications of evolution to society. Some of the fundamental concepts are reinforced by practical exercises. and formative canvas quizzes, including a mock exam on canvas. The skills to manipulate, analyse and present the population consequences of phenotypic trait evolution are developed via a computer-based practical and guided independent study where students test if adaptation can rescue species from extinction, providing a summative assessment for subject-specific and transferable skills development.

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Digital Examination1202A60Digital exam (Inspera).
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report2M40Computer practical and report (max. 4000 words) that together comprise the assignment 'trait evolution and evolutionary rescue'.
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Prob solv exercises2MQuizzes on canvas, including a mock exam with example exam questions.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Lectures and practical materials together with the directed reading provide questions for formal assessment in the form of a digital examination that is based on the knowledge acquired during these activities. The digital examination assessment will focus on testing depth and breadth of factual knowledge and general understanding of the concepts and implications in each subject area. The exam comprises short-answer questions to test understanding across the subjects, as well as a multiple-choice questions. A mock exam and classroom/canvas quizzes will be provided as formative assessment for the students to test their knowledge.

The summative assessment 'trait evolution and evolutionary rescue', comprises a computer practical and written report on a short project that includes elements of data acquisition from online databases and computer simulations. This assessment is designed to assess the ability to understand and perform a computational test of phenotype evolution and interpret the results within the context of climate adaptation.

Reading Lists