From the rainforest to the coral reef - new UK course offers hands on experience of tropical ecology

Tioman Island
03 Nov 2016 10:00:00.000


Students are being offered the chance to explore tropical Southeast Asian ecosystems at first hand, thanks to a unique new degree course being offered by a UK university.

Undergraduates studying on the new BSc in Tropical Biology at The University of Nottingham will be able to put theory into practice when they spend the second year of their three-year course at the University’s campus in Malaysia.

The course, which will see students undertaking field work in the Malaysian rainforest and on coral reef ecosystems is an unparalleled opportunity to study at a UK university in a tropical environment.

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Tropical biology in a global context

Dr Markus Eichhorn, Course Director in the University’s School of Life Sciences, said: “This course focuses in particular on the challenges posed to humans and other organisms living in these tropical ecosystems by issues such as environmental change and rapid population growth.

“Our students will graduate with a sound understanding of both pure and applied tropical biology in a global context. They will have acquired scientific, analytical and communication skills, and gained experience of practical research which will see them well placed to pursue careers in areas such as conservation and global food security.”

The new course - which welcomed its first cohort of students at the beginning of the academic year - is to be marked with a launch event later this month featuring a guest public lecture by Mr Simon Counsell, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation UK, the pioneering NGO that aims to protect rainforests around the world.

During their second year, at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC), as well as conventional lecture modules, students will have the chance to participate in field courses designed to give them hands-on experience of tropical science. At the end of the second year, students can participate in summer field work collecting data for use in their final year research project.

They will spend time in the Malaysian rainforest where they may encounter an array of tropical – and in some cases endangered – creatures, including several species of primates, flying squirrels, fruit bats and hornbill birds, as well as learning more about the delicate relationship between the ecosystem and the indigenous people who still inhabit the area.

Threats to conservation

Further field work will see them exploring Malaysia’s globally critical marine biology by studying the coral reefs at Tioman Island, located 32 km off the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia, which have been declared a Marine Park and Marine Reserve. It will offer an insight into current coral reef research topics such as climatic interactions and feedbacks, management strategies and current threats (including conservation efforts attempting to tackle these issues in Malaysia and worldwide).

Among the first cohort of new students on the course is Daniel Cresswell, who hopes to develop a career as an ecologist or an animal behavioural scientist after completing his degree.

He said: “I was initially thinking about studying zoology or neuroscience, but when I saw what the Tropical Biology degree had to offer, my mind was changed. I was attracted to the prospect of working and researching out in the field, helping the current environmental challenges the world faces; the conservation of species for example, particularly in tropical areas. The vast amount of interesting biodiversity present in tropical environments was another reason to study and specialise in tropical biology; to be immersed in this amazing environment, discovering and learning new things I will find thrilling.

“Flying out to Malaysia with my peers and gaining a practical experience working in the tropical environment, taking modules such as the Rainforest Ecology Field Course in which we go on a residential field course in the Malaysian jungle learning about the ecology and communities within the tropical rainforest environment, and the Tropical Biodiversity Field Course where we travel to Tioman Island to study the diversity of plants and animals - sampling and identifying them - is such an exciting prospect.”

New breed of tropical biologists

The launch event for the degree course will take place on Tuesday November 15 between 6pm and 7.30pm in The School of Chemistry on University Park campus, where Mr Counsell will deliver his free public lecture entitled ‘Do Trees Need People? How to Save the Rainforests (And How Not To)’.

Mr Counsell has been involved in the environmental movement for almost 30 years, for most of which he has worked to protect the world's rainforests and believes that respect and recognition of human rights are inextricably linked to environmental protection. During his career, he has worked for Friends of the Earth, (FoE), for nine years, helping to shape their rainforest campaign, including developing local and national consumer and public awareness initiatives, coordinating the FoE international forest campaign, and helping to establish the Forest Stewardship Council. He left Friends of the Earth in 1995 and, after gaining a Master’s Degree in Tropical Forestry and Land-use at Oxford University, became the Director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, where he has led international efforts to protect the rainforests and their inhabitants, especially in the Congo Basin region of Africa and the Peruvian Amazon.

Mr Counsell said: “Conservation policy and practice (especially in the Congo basin region) has historically failed to take into account forest and indigenous peoples' rights, needs and knowledge and in so doing, it has also failed to protect forests and biodiversity. There is a growing importance for tropical biologists who have an awareness of interactions between wildlife and society.”

Anyone interested in attending the launch event and guest public lecture can book a free place at

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Markus Eichhorn, in The University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences, on +44 (0)115 951 3214, or Rachel Agnew, Head of Media and Communications at the Rainforest Foundation UK, on +44 (0)20 7485 0193,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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