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NES2311 : Marine Vertebrate Biology and Ecology

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Per Berggren
  • Lecturer: Dr Richard Bevan
  • 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


To appreciate, compare and contrast the evolution, physiology and adaptations of marine vertebrates. The module will specifically address aspects of the biology of fish, marine mammals, sea birds and reptiles. Building upon the entry level of vertebrate biology during Stage 1, this module will cover in detail aspects of the biology of fish (elasmobranchs and teleosts) and including their locomotion, migratory patterns and physiology. The module will address important aspects of marine biology and ecology of marine mammals (cetacean and pinnipeds) including distribution, abundance, population structure, behaviour and communication. The module will further cover adaptations and status of seabirds and marine reptiles. Human impacts on marine vertebrates will be reviewed and specifically address fisheries interactions and pollution. Case studies will be used to investigate various aspects of marine vertebrate marine biology and ecology for example how to assess conservation status and methods to mitigate identified threats and ethics.

Outline Of Syllabus

Lecture-based course focussed on the following themes will be delivered;

Fish: locomotion, physiology, senses, reproduction and migration.
Return to the Sea: Pros and cons.
Marine reptiles and seabirds: Adaptations and status.
Pinniped and cetacea evolution and status.
Marine vertebrates: locomotion, physiology and senses, foraging behaviour and ecology, diving behaviour and physiology, social structure and behaviour, communication, reproductive strategies, population structure, abundance and migration.
Passive acoustic monitoring methods for cetaceans.
Human Impacts on Marine Vertebrates: Fisheries interactions and pollution.
Pinniped and cetacean pathology.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion13:003:00Summative assessment 2
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture21:002:00In-Person introduction and revision sessions.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion212:0024:00coursework, one formative and one summative
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials241:0024:00In-person lectures complemented by material on Canvas. Two lectures delivered by external colleagues
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical13:003:00Practical class
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading157:0057:00Wider subject reading
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading241:0024:00Follow-up on in-person teaching sessions.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops71:007:00Synchronous online Q & A weekly sessions.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork18:008:00Farne Islands Field Trip
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study242:0048:00Lecture material follow-up and engagement with supplementary materials
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Non-synchronous lecture materials and in-person lectures are designed to give students a broad factual knowledge of key concepts in marine vertebrate biology and ecology, and their role in the marine ecosystem functioning. The lectures will focus on the different groups of marine vertebrates, compare and contrast their adaptations to the marine environment. Further, threats to marine vertebrates will be assessed and methods to assess status will be introduced. Case study lectures will be used to give students a comprehensive overview of status assessment, identification of threats and potential methods to mitigate threats.

In-person lecture will allow for consolidation of topic-focussed material during online sessions with teaching staff through module discussions.

Directed research, through the use of supplementary online material and activities, and wider reading of the scientific literature will support the information received through asynchronous lectures. Independent study will be guided through the use of these materials and online access to key texts/eBooks. Students will be encouraged to become more independent in their learning at this stage in their programmes to develop key skills such as Active Learning, Goal Setting and Action Planning, Decision Making, and Initiative, which they will require at Level 6.

Assessment preparation and completion will allow students to fully prepare for both their formative and summative coursework assessments. They will have the opportunity to consolidate and build upon knowledge gained in the asynchronous and synchronous sessions.

The lab-based practical gives the students experience of the morphology and internal anatomy of marine vertebrates while the trip to the Farne Islands introduces the students to marine vertebrates in their environment.

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination9992A7024 Hour take home exam. Students will spend 2 hours and 15 minutes
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Prob solv exercises2M30Data collection, presentation and analysis exercise (1000 word equivalent)
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 exercises2MData collection, presentation and analysis exercise (1000 word equivalent)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The 2 x 1000 word (or equivalent) pieces of formative and summative coursework will assess student’s knowledge of specific aspects of the course through a combination of written work and data analysis, in addition to examining their use of the relevant literature to support their ideas and their ability to present visual information and data in an appropriate scientific format.

The 5-day take-home assessment will assess the level of knowledge and understanding of all key themes of the module, including student wider reading.

Reading Lists