1 year full time
Starts September 2017

Animal Behaviour

Understand the causes, effects and ultimate explanations for the evolution of animal behaviour. On this course, you’ll learn to apply that understanding to conserve and manage species.

You’ll develop an advanced knowledge and practical experience of research skills in animal behaviour, putting you in a strong position to move on to a PhD or a research career.

Key facts

  • Taught by Evolution, Behaviour and Environment faculty in the School of Life Sciences, ranked 8th in the UK for research output in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).
  • Situated in the Brighton and Lewes Downs UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and surrounded by the South Downs National Park.
  • Interdisciplinary links with the School of Psychology, the Department of Informatics, and Sussex Neuroscience.

How will I study?

You’ll choose from a variety of options including unique field modules. The in-depth research project forms a core part of this course. You’ll study real problems as part of a research group in close contact with your supervisor, with the ultimate aim of producing a scientific publication.

You’ll be assessed with a variety of methods including:

  • essays
  • reports
  • presentations
  • a dissertation.

Field modules

On our Masters courses, you have the opportunity to go on exciting field modules in Ecuador, Egypt, Portugal, Zimbabwe and South Africa. You can also explore terrestrial and marine ecology in Africa as well as marine ecology in the Red Sea.

What will I study?

  • Module list

    Core modules

    Core modules are taken by all students on the course. They give you a solid grounding in your chosen subject and prepare you to explore the topics that interest you most.

    • Research Foundations

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      As part of the module, you carry out the foundations for a research project on a specialised topic in the area of your degree.

      It will involve a project-specific mix of training in:

      • practical skills
      • the consideration of ethical aspects, potential impacts and the risks to health and safety associated with the planned research
      • the generation of hypotheses
      • the production of initial data.

      Records of training, experiments and practical work are recorded in a laboratory book together with a reflective commentary to form a record of your research journey.

    • Evolution of Communication: from animal signals to human speech

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      In this module, you explore the evolution of communication, progressing from the vocal signals that animals produce and the functions they serve, to then consider the differences between animal and human communications - to evaluate theories of language evolution and discover the unique properties of human speech. In the course of this, you also examine ape language studies and gestural theories of language origins.

      You are exposed to tools and skills that will allow you to conduct research in this area yourself - through lectures, interactive research workshop sessions and practical demonstrations.

      This module should very much appeal to both psychologists and biologists who are interested in how vocal signals provide the basis for animal sexual and social behaviour, the evolution of communication, the question of whether any animal can be said to have a language, and the production and perception of human speech.

    • MRes Research Project in Evolution, Behaviour or Conservation

      90 credits
      Spring & Summer Teaching, Year 1

      This module requires you to carry out an independent, original, in-depth research project in consultation with a research supervisor on a specialised topic in animal behaviour, evolutionary biology or conservation biology (according to your degree).

      It will involve bespoke, project-specific training in practical skills, the generation of hypotheses, the production of data, statistical analysis and interpretation of results, and the presentation of results in a research seminar and a dissertation written in the form of a scientific paper.


    Alongside your core modules, you can choose options to broaden your horizons and tailor your course to your interests.

    • Coral Reef Ecology Field Course

      15 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

    • Current Topics in Evolution, Behaviour and Conservation

      15 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This module will introduce you to a diversity of active areas of research in conservation biology, animal behaviour, and evolutionary biology.

      The module will be taught via a series of advanced research seminars given by University of Sussex staff, research students and invited speakers in the Evolution, Behaviour and Environment (EBE) seminar series.

      These seminars will provide an excellent opportunity for you to learn about the latest developments in a range of current topics, gain insight into the nature of scientific research, and meet with a diversity of researchers.

      The module will be assessed via a portfolio of work summarising, synthesising and communicating the research for a scientific audience and the general public.

    • Intelligence in Animals and Machines

      15 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      The module will help yopu develop an understanding of what it means for an animal or a machine to behave intelligently, and how brain and behavioural systems are adapted to enable an animal to cope effectively within its environment. We consider diverse aspects of intelligence including navigation and motor control, numerical, language, memory and social skills. We ask how these are related to one another and how they are matched to the particular needs of animals and machines.

    • Masters Tropical Rainforest Field Course

      15 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      The Masters Tropical Forest Science field trip module is based at the Santa Lucia Cloud forest Reserve in NW Ecuador. The field station and laboratory were established by the University of Sussex to provide the opportunity for you to gain expertise in tropical plant, invertebrate and vertebrate taxonomy.

      Following an introduction to the wildlife and plants of the region, you undertake your own fieldwork project to address a conservation issue at this biodiversity hotspot.

    • News and Feature Writing

      15 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This module equips you with essential knowledge and skills in news research and writing and you will be encouraged to produce news material for a range of platforms. You will also explore key theories surrounding different approaches to news and writing, and the key ethical and legal challenges involved.

      The module delivers a foundation in the key principles and techniques of news gathering, news reporting and feature writing. You will proceed from exploring news values, finding story ideas, doing research, identifying and interviewing sources to reporting straight news as well as writing different types of feature stories (e.g. columns, profiles, lifestyle pieces, backgrounders). By the end of the course, you will have gained a solid skill and knowledge base in news and feature writing such as:

      - drawing on a range of sources and turning raw information into a publishable news report or feature
      - building an effective story structure
      - grabbing and maintaining the reader's attention in print and online
      - identifying the story angle
      - quoting people effectively and accurately, and
      - using style and vocabulary appropriate to the genre and context

      You will practice all of these via in-class exercises and real-life journalism assignments. You will also obtain a critical understanding of the genres and sub-genres of news and feature and apply this understanding to a critical analysis of existing news products. You will be encouraged and instructed to write publishable content for mainstream news publications.

    • Brain and Behaviour (Masters)

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      The module demonstrates how knowledge of the structure and function of the nervous system can give us insights to the understanding of human behaviour. Topics covered will normally include: functional neuroanatomy of the human brain; brain development and neurogenetics; ionic mechanisms underlying the nerve action potential; synapses and neurotransmission; neuropharmacology of commonly used anxiolytic drugs; neural mechanisms in emotion and motor behaviour; neural mechanisms underlying plasticity and learning.

    • Field Biology and Conservation Skills

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      Field research and conservation practice require a range of practical skills, and experience of many of these is consequently often key to being able to obtain employment in these areas.

      This module will give you the opportunity to learn, practice and apply a range of specialist practical skills for field biology and conservation. Over the course of the module, you will build up a skills portfolio by selecting from a broad range of specialist workshops delivered by Sussex staff or external providers that will demonstrate your ability to carry out the various techniques and methods.

      You will then complete an assignment that will demonstrate your understanding of the techniques and ability to apply them to research questions or conservation objectives.

    • Masters African Zoology Field Course

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      The rich biological diversity of southern Africa, including ecologically dominant megafauna, and the conservation challenges this presents, makes the region an exceptional place to learn about zoology.

      This field course will be based at research sites in southern Africa that will provide students with the opportunity to study terrestrial African animals, including some of the charismatic megafauna.

      Following an introduction to the sites, you will carry out a fieldwork research project to investigate the behaviour, ecology or conservation of African animals. The field course will conclude by studying marine megafauna at sites in South Africa.

    • Rewilding and Ecosystem Services

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      In this module, you explore the theory that underpins rewilding covering:

      • Pleistocene and Holocene baselines
      • natural process function
      • trophic cascades
      • keystone species.

      You also considers the process and application of rewilding to deliver ecological and social benefits.

      Rewilding is emerging as an optimistic agenda in conservation biology that seeks to reverse the decline in biodiversity by restoring natural processes, typically through the reintroduction of missing keystone species. 

      Rewilding gained global recognition when it was suggested that these keystone species should include the missing late Quaternary megafauna, but it is still an emerging field that is encouraging innovation and exploration of ideas. 


Entry requirements

An upper second-class (2.1) undergraduate honours degree or above in a relevant subject such as biology, ecology, zoology or conservation.

If you are a non-EEA or Swiss national we must receive your application by 1 August because you will need to obtain clearance by the UK Government Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) for this degree. Find out more about ATAS.

English language requirements

Standard level (IELTS 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each section)

Find out about other English language qualifications we accept.

English language support

Don’t have the English language level for your course? Find out more about our pre-sessional courses.

Additional information for international students

We welcome applications from all over the world. Find out about international qualifications suitable for our Masters courses.

Visas and immigration

Find out how to apply for a student visa

Fees and scholarships

How much does it cost?


Home: £9,250 per year

EU: £9,250 per year

Channel Islands and Isle of Man: £9,250 per year

Overseas: £18,750 per year

Note that your fees may be subject to an increase on an annual basis.

How can I fund my course?

Postgraduate Masters loans

Borrow up to £10,280 to contribute to your postgraduate study.

Find out more about Postgraduate Masters Loans


Our aim is to ensure that every student who wants to study with us is able to despite financial barriers, so that we continue to attract talented and unique individuals.

Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship (2017)

Open to students with a 1st class from a UK university or excellent grades from an EU university and offered a F/T place on a Sussex Masters in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship

Sussex Graduate Scholarship (2017)

Open to Sussex students who graduate with a first or upper second-class degree and offered a full-time place on a Sussex Masters course in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Graduate Scholarship

Sussex India Scholarships (2017)

Sussex India Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from India commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex India Scholarships

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Malaysia commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Malaysia Scholarships

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships are worth £3,500 or £5,000 and are for overseas fee paying students from Nigeria commencing a Masters in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Nigeria Scholarships

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Pakistan commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Pakistan Scholarships

How Masters scholarships make studying more affordable

Living costs

Find out typical living costs for studying at Sussex.


Animal behaviour research at Sussex is carried out in the School of Life Sciences and the School of Psychology, and encompasses both the proximate mechanisms and ultimate causes of animal behaviour. From ants, bees and cuttlefish to white sharks and lions, we work with a wide range of animals in our research.

Our research interests include:

  • the behavioural ecology of social insects and other social organisms
  • understanding the causes and consequences of ‘animal personalities’
  • the neurobiology of behaviour, self-organisation and robot models of animal behaviour
  • chemical communication and vocal communication
  • vision and navigation
  • sexual selection and sexual conflict.
  • Evolution, Behaviour and Environment faculty

    Prof Jonathan Bacon
    Professor of Neuroscience

    Research interests: ant navigation, Drosophila, neural circuits, social arthropods

    View profile

    Prof Daniel Colaco Osorio
    Professor of Neuroscience

    Research interests: bird, cephalopod, colour, cuttlefish, evolution, neuroethology, physiology, Vision

    View profile

    Prof Thomas Collett
    Emeritus Professor

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    Prof Adam Eyre-Walker
    Professor of Biology

    Research interests: Mitochondria, Mutation, Population genetics, Transposable elements

    View profile

    Prof Jeremy Field

    Research interests: Behavioural Ecology, cooperative breeding, evolution of sociality, Evolutionary biology, parental care, primitively eusocial wasps and bees, social dominance hierarchies

    View profile

    Prof Tim Flowers
    Professor of Plant Physiology

    Research interests: halophytes, ion transport, Plant physiology, salinity, salt-tolerant plants

    View profile

    Dr Bonnie Fraser
    Lecturer in Biology

    Research interests: Adaptation, Evolutionary biology, fish, Genomics, Population genetics

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    Prof Dave Goulson
    Professor Of Biology

    Research interests: Animal behaviour, Animal ecology, Behavioural Ecology, Biodiversity, Conservation Ecology, Insecticides, Pollination

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    Dr Paul Graham

    Research interests: Animal behaviour, Learning, Memory, navigation, neuroethology, social insect biology, Vision

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    Prof Elizabeth Hill
    Emeritus Professor

    Research interests: chemical contaminants, fish, human health, Metabolomics, Pollution, urinary biomarkers of disease

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    Prof William Hughes
    Professor of Evolutionary Biology

    Research interests: Animal behaviour, Behavioural Ecology, biology and conservation of apex predators, causes and consequences of 'animal personalities', conservation biology, disease ecology and evolution, evolution of sociality and symbiosis, Evolutionary biology, host-symbiont interactions and evolution, lions, pollinator conservation, social insect biology, white sharks

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    Dr Ted Morrow
    Senior Research Fellow

    Research interests: Drosophila, Evolutionary biology, Evolutionary genetics, Evolutionary Medicine, Gene expression, Sexual antagonism, Sexual conflict, Sexual selection

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    Dr Jeremy Niven
    Senior Lecturer in Zoology

    Research interests: Animal behaviour, Behaviour and Energy Efficiency, Behavioural choice, Behavioural Neuroscience, Computational Neuroscience, Evolutionary biology, neuroethology, Sensor Integration, Sensory receptors, Systems neuroscience

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    Dr Mika Peck
    Senior Lecturer in Biology

    Research interests: ecology and conservation of biodiversity hotspots, impacts of global change, primate behaviour, primate conservation, REDD++, spider monkeys, tropical rainforest ecology

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    Prof Francis Ratnieks
    Professor of Apiculture

    Research interests: Animal behaviour, beekeeping, Behavioural Ecology, honey bee, Insects, Social evolution, social insects

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    Dr Christopher Sandom
    Lecturer in Biology

    Research interests: Applied ecology, Community Ecology, conservation biology, Ecoinformatics, Ecological assessment, Ecosystem Services, Palaeoecology and palaeozoology, Rewilding

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    Prof Jorn Scharlemann
    Professor of Conservation Science

    Research interests: agriculture and conservation, Applied ecology, Biodiversity, Conservation, Conservation Science, Environmental modelling, Environmental policy, Environmental Statistics, GIS Mapping, Remote Sensing & Earth Observation, Sustainability: Environmental

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    Dr Alan Stewart
    Senior Lecturer in Ecology

    Research interests: Community Ecology, Conservation Ecology, Conservation Science, Ecology, biodiversity and systematics, Entomology, Insects

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Our MRes gives you the skills and understanding to carry out scientific research in your chosen area of study. It will place you in a strong position to move on to a PhD in animal behaviour or a research career in associated areas.

Graduate destinations

94% of students working in the Life Sciences subject groups (excluding Chemistry) were in work or further study six months after graduating. Recent Life Sciences students have gone on to jobs including:

  • medical laboratory assistant, NHS Trust
  • research fellow, Cancer Research UK
  • technical services representative, Sigma-Aldrich.

(EPI, Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey 2015 for postgraduates)

Working while you study

Our Careers and Employability Centre can help you find part-time work while you study. Find out more about career development and part-time work

Contact us