AB-838 Life History Adaptations to Seasonality (10 ECTS)

Glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus). Photo: Øystein Varpe/UNIS

How to apply

May 2020
June 2020
Spring semester (May–June), every second year. Next course: 2020
10 ECTS with AB-338
Letter grade (A through F)
Curriculum is made up of about 200 pages of selected journal articles and book sections.
Fieldwork, NOK 400–800 (2–4 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
10/20 students (AB-338/838 in total)
Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue
15 October 2019

Course requirements:

Enrolment in a relevant PhD programme, with priority given to those with thesis projects on closely related topics.

Academic content:

Seasonality has strong impacts on biology and is an important part of ecology and evolution. High-latitude ecosystems are highly seasonal in several ways, and are therefore unique laboratories for seasonal ecology. The course deals with how seasonality shapes life histories and population dynamics, focusing on Arctic organisms. Evolutionary adaptations to seasonality will be covered, including analyses of key traits such as migration, energy storage, diapause, and timing of reproduction and growth. Trade-offs between traits will be analyzed and individual variability in annual routines and life history traits will be dealt with. Knowledge gained from these evolutionary perspectives is used to study the drivers of observed phenology and population dynamics of selected Arctic species. Life history theory and the theories for optimal timing and annual routines will be introduced and used actively along with quantitative methods and modelling. Organisms and populations from aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems will be covered with the same interest. Field studies and excursions will illustrate biological diversity, ecological interactions and study methods. The course operates at the research frontier and field projects linked to ongoing research projects in the department will be selected.

The course builds on the bachelor course in ecology AB-204: Arctic Ecology and Population Biology and provides an advanced coverage and natural extension of several topics introduced there.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students can:

  1. Explain the seasonality of key environmental drivers and some of the basic proximate mechanisms behind biological timing within the annual cycle.
  2. Summarise central elements of life history theory and theories for optimal timing and annual routines.
  3. Describe the annual routines and life history diversity observed among main groups of Arctic organisms, and analyse the costs and benefits involved in central traits such as energy reserves, diapause/dormancy, migration, and timing of reproduction.

Upon completing the course, the students can:

  1. Apply statistical analyses of individual variability in life history traits and use selected models for studies of life history adaptations and annual routines.
  2. Confront models with data in order to test hypotheses on life history diversity observed in the Arctic.
  3. Design and perform projects on life history traits and phenology of selected Arctic animals or plants.

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students can:

  1. Report in a scientific manner, both in writing and orally, on literature studies, field studies and modelling exercises performed during the course.
  2. Understand the relevance of evolutionary and ecological theory for field based studies of organisms inhabiting seasonal environments.
  3. Account for, discuss, and criticise classic as well as recent literature within the field.
  4. Develop and analyse basic mathematical models.

Learning activities:

Prior to arrival, the student has prepared a presentation of his/her own thesis project. The students are challenged to reflect on the extent that seasonality influences processes studied in their own work. The students will present this work during seminars early in the course. The students will have the core curriculum available prior to arrival at UNIS and are expected to have familiarized themselves with this.

At the beginning of the course the students attend two days of compulsory Arctic survival and safety training.

The course is run through a combination of lectures, seminars, fieldwork, data analyses, group work and computer labs. We promote active participation and active learning. The course is research based and the students will meet members of the Department of Arctic Biology as well as invited guest lecturers that are international experts in the field. Guest lecturers also contribute to seminars and computer labs.

The main fieldwork is a two to four-day excursion aimed to be located away from Longyearbyen, and supplemented with shorter excursions near UNIS. This gives hands-on experience with the Arctic and the challenges and opportunities Arctic organisms are faced with.

Through seminars we will read, present and discuss scientific literature. Computer labs will provide experience with data analyses as well as modelling. The students will summarize their learning outcome form the computer labs through individual reports. The course includes group projects where two to three students investigate a research question within the field and do so through a literature study, data analyses or theoretical model. The students will learn how to run through a complete mini-version of a research project, and hence get experience with all stages in the scientific process.

Students following AB-838 will develop an additional presentation prior to the course and present this to all during the first two weeks of the course. The topic of this presentation will be decided on together with the course leader, and be on a theme central to the course.

Total lecture hours: 15 hours
Total seminar hours: 30 hours
Laboratory work: 25 hours
Excursions: Several shorter excursions (around 15 hours in total) and one overnight excursion lasting 2–4 days (weather dependent)

Compulsory learning activities:

Field excursions, group project with report, computer lab with report, and student seminars and presentations.
All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


Method Duration Percentage of final grade
Written exam 4 hours 100%

All assessments must be passed in order to pass the course.

Application deadline: 15 October 2019


Glaucous gull (Larus Hyperboreus). Photo: Øystein Varpe/UNIS

Glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus). Photo: Øystein Varpe/UNIS


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