1 year full time
Starts September 2017

Conservation Biology

On this course, you’ll gain an advanced, global outlook on conservation and the positive approaches you can use to address conservation challenges.

In the face of global change, there has never been a greater need for the knowledge and research skills that you’ll develop throughout your studies. These skills will enable you to address the environmental changes facing us today.

We’ve established a protected area for the endangered brown-headed spider monkey in Ecuador. This will benefit the species and help the forest community generate sustainable livelihoods.”Mika Peck
Course convener for the Conservation Biology MRes

Key facts

  • We were ranked 8th in the UK for research output in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).
  • We are part of the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme, which provides an excellent interdisciplinary research environment spanning the School of Life Sciences, the School of Global Studies, Sussex Law School, SPRU – Science Policy Research Unit and the Institute of Developmental Studies.
  • We are situated in the Brighton and Lewes Downs UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and surrounded by the South Downs National Park.

How will I study?

In this research-focused course, you’ll work on an in-depth project tackling real-world problems in close contact with your supervisor, with the aim of producing a scientific publication.

You’ll also have access to a variety of modules aimed at giving you skills and experience in all aspects of research, from the laboratory to the editorial desk, and including unique field modules.

You'll be assessed through:

  • 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.

    • 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. 


    • 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.

    • 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.

    • The Science of Climate Change

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This course introduces you to the physical science basis of climate change, recognising that the audience is comprised substantially of non-climate specialists.

      The course provides you with an overview of how the global climate system operates. This includes explanation of the different components of the climate system and how they interact; the radiation budget and the concept of radiative forcing which is the main driver of climate change; the composition of the atmosphere, how heat is transferred around the planet through the general circulation of the atmosphere and ocean; how the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is regulated by bio-geochemical cycles on land and ocean. You then consider the natural and human influences on the radiation budget over recent millennia and how we can attribute observed climate changes to these. You conclude by evaluating projections of the future climate and associated uncertainty.

      There is strong emphasis on how climate influences society and livelihoods, for exemplify through extreme climate and weather events. Throughout, you will gain an understanding of the methods and tools used in studying climate, notably climate datasets and climate models. You will document the history of climate change science, and exemplify the structures which steer science including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).The course is specifically designed to be accessible for students from a range of academic and professional backgrounds.

    • Basic and Advanced Conservation Biology

      30 credits
      Autumn & Spring Teaching, Year 1

      This module is designed to give students from a diversity of backgrounds a solid grounding in the basic principles of conservation biology and then build on this with learning about advanced, research-led topics in conservation.

      During Term 1, after an introduction to the major threats to global biodiversity, the module will explore a series of broad conservation themes. It will begin by focusing on the species level, exploring some of the particular threats faced, why species become rare and endangered, and what measures can be taken to halt or reverse population declines and how populations of threatened species can be restored.

      The module then adopts a habitat and ecosystem focus, working up from a consideration of specific habitats and their management to a landscape approach and exploring methods for repairing damaged habitats and ecosystems. During Term 2, the module will consider a set of advanced, research-led topics in conservation biology.

    • 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.

    • Masters Mediterranean Ecology and Behaviour Field Course

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      For this module, you visit an ecological site in the Mediterranean and carry out field work. 

      The Mediterranean phylogeographic region includes a diversity of habitats that contrast markedly with those found in the UK, and contain very different flora and fauna.

      Through this module, you gain experience in a variety of environments which is essential for a good understanding of the ecology of biodiversity and the selection forces driving its evolution.

      You also get experience of carrying out research in novel environments, which is an essential part of learning to be a field biologist or ecologist.

      When you finish this module, you should be able to design and carry out ecological or behavioural field research projects, using the flora or fauna of a Mediterranean field site as your study system.

      You develop research proposals, conduct field work, analyse your data, and present your findings both in writing and in the form of a research seminar.

    • Tropical Rainforests: Biogeography and Conservation

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      The module aims to develop an understanding of tropical rainforest (trf) ecosystems and the consequences of their great antiquity, present rapid destruction and uncertain future. You will examine and evaluate the many hypotheses attempting to explain the astonishing species richness of trfs and explore their complex ecological organization. Sustainable use of trfs is contrasted with their ever-increasing destruction by peasant farmers, timber companies, cattle ranchers and other commercial interests. You will learn about the impact of trf destruction on world climates, global biodiversity, and natural resources. Future prospects for conservation and management are assessed, including less damaging methods of timber harvesting, ecotourism, the potential of a new 'carbon market' (REDD++) and the role and contribution of scientist and international conservation organisations. The coursework and seminar series associated with the module will introduce skills of practical use to you if you decide to follow a career within conservation - the main focus being the development of an original grant proposal to the Royal Geographical Society.

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.


Research in conservation biology at Sussex is carried out primarily in the School of Life Sciences, drawing on expertise within the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme.

Our research interests include: 

  • rewilding
  • ecosystem services and ecological assessment
  • the ecology and conservation of bees and other pollinators
  • the ecology and impact of diseases on animals
  • apex predator conservation biology
  • the ecology and conservation of biodiversity hotspots
  • assessing the impacts of global change
  • the development of policy-relevant strategies to manage human impacts.
  • 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

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    Prof Thomas Collett
    Emeritus Professor

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    Prof Adam Eyre-Walker
    Professor of Biology

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

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    Prof Jeremy Field

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

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    Prof Tim Flowers
    Professor of Plant Physiology

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

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    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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Graduating from this course will place you in an excellent position to continue scientific research. You will have the skills and experience to move on to a PhD or a career in conservation and related research.

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