Introduction to Field Ecology


Course Code: ES2302  

Learning Objective: Tropical forests are the most diverse ecosystems on earth, supporting over 50% of all biodiversity. They play a major role in regulating global climates and are key to the livelihood of a substantial proportion of the world’s human population. However, they are also among the most threatened of all biomes. Understanding the ecology and evolution of tropical forests, and people’s dependence on these habitats is fundamental to their future management and conservation. This course will help you appreciate how conducting experiments and surveys in the field is critical to understanding and using the theory you learn in the classroom.  The course presents the natural history and ecology of tropical forests through practical exercises, lectures, site visits, tutorials, small group project work and (most importantly), day to day experience in the field.  You will learn survey techniques for monitoring plants, vertebrates and invertebrates and ecosystem functions, visit and discuss large-scale experiments, forest management and restoration sites, and explore the importance of evidence-based science for conservation and management of tropical ecosystems.


1. Tropical Forest Ecology

Understand the ecological, evolutionary and biogeographic processes leading to high diversity in tropical forests. Discuss importance of natural history and taxonomy in the study of biodiversity of tropical forests.

2. Biodiversity Field Surveys

Undertake biodiversity field surveys for vertebrates (herps surveys, camera trapping), invertebrates (butterflies, dung beetles, dragonflies, stream inverts), plants (50 ha plot), and assessments of ecosystem functioning (seed predation, herbivore predation).

3. Large scale experiments in tropical forests

Give examples of large-scale experiments in tropical forests in Sabah (e.g. 50 ha plots, Biodiversity Experiment, mammal exclosures, SAFE project) and what they can tell us about tropical forest ecology and conservation.

4. Tropical Forest and Ocean Management and Conservation

Understand the threats and drivers of change in tropical forests (e.g. logging, agriculture) and oceans (e.g. pollution, plastics, overfishing, climate change), how they can be managed (e.g. Forest restoration, RIL,), and pragmatic solutions (e.g. connectivity, Protected Areas, muti-use areas, carbon trading, education programmes, community involvement). Critically assess the evidence for conservation actions.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  1. Describe the natural and anthropogenic heterogeneity of tropical forest habitats and associated variations in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
  2. Identify the ecological, evolutionary and biogeographic processes leading to high diversity in tropical forests in general, and Bornean forests in particular.
  3. Discuss the importance of natural history and taxonomy for the study of biodiversity in tropical forests.
  4. Explain the drivers of change in tropical forests and give examples of solutions.
  5. Relate ecological concepts to the design of large-scale experiments in tropical forest.
  6. Recognise the challenges and complexities of conservation and sustainable management in tropical forests and oceans and critically assess the evidence for conservation actions.
  7. Employ fieldwork skills and experience relevant to practical tropical forest ecology and biodiversity.
  8. Demonstrate skills in research project design, execution, and analysis through the completion of small-group research projects.


AUs: 2AU
Year Taken: Year 2
Semester Offered: Special Term 2

Prerequisite: ES2003

Course OBTL

Federico Lauro Lab_cropped


Course instructor: Assistant Professor Eleanor SLADE

Office Location: N2-01c-66 / TEE Lab