The Behavioural Ecology Field Course

Second-years undergraduates have the imagination and intellectual capacity to do much more than soak up facts in a stuffy lecture theatre. In the right atmosphere, with the right level of support, they can engage in cutting-edge research in an enjoyable and productive way. This is the guiding principle around which we built our Behavioural Ecology Field Course field course more than twenty years ago, and it has been (largely) successful ever since.

The field course constitutes a 20 credit  second-year module aimed at exposing students to “real” science in the field, and preparing them for their final-year research projects. It is an intensive two-week residential course for about 40 students, run in the Easter vacation at the Quinta de São Pedro near Lisbon in Portugal.

The ultimate objective of the course is for the students to produce work of a publishable standard. In many cases, they end up collaborating with staff to write their work up for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

About the Quinta

The Quinta de São Pedro has provided us with a fantastic base for the field course for twenty years. The Quinta hosts many other University groups and other groups seeking a quiet place to run workshops, conferences and retreats. Find out more about the Quinta here.


The field course has generated more than 20 publications in peer-reviewed journals over the past two decades. These papers were made possible by the hard-work, enthusiasm and scientific rigour of our students, and they are a testament to the value of the interaction between university teaching and research. Below is a list of (most of) the publications to date:

Eichhorn M.P., Ratliffe L.C. and Pollard K.M., (2011). Attraction of ants by an invasive Acacia. Insect Conservation and Diversity. 4, 235-238. PDF.

Reader, T., Higginson, A.D., Barnard, C.J., Gilbert, F.S. and The Behavioural Ecology Field Course, (2006). The effects of predation risk from crab spiders on bee foraging behavior. Behavioral Ecology, 17(6), 933-937. PDF

Shuker D, Bateson N, Breitsprecher H, O’Donovan R, Taylor H, Barnard C, Behnke J, Collins S & Gilbert F (2002) Mating behavior, sexual selection, and copulatory courtship in a promiscuous beetle.  Journal of Insect Behavior 15(5): 617-631

Gilbert F, Azmeh S, Barnard C, Behnke J, Hurst J, McGregor P & the Behavioural Ecology Field Course (2001) Individual scent marks made on flowers by a solitary bee. Animal Behaviour, 61(1): 217-229. PDF

Behnke, J., McGregor, P., Cameron, J., Hartley, I., Shepherd, M., Gilbert, F., Barnard, C. J., Hurst, J., Gray, S. and Wiles, R. (1999). Semi-quantitative assessment of wing feather mite (Acarina) infestations on passerine birds from Portugal. Evaluation of the criteria for accurate quantification of mite burdens .Journal of Zoology, London 248, 337-347. PDF

Gray SJ, Hurst JL, Stidworthy R, Smith J, Preston R & MacDougall R (1998) Microhabitat and spatial dispersion of the grassland mouse (Mus spretus Lataste). Journal of Zoology 246: 299-308. PDF

Hurst JL, Gray SJ, Davey P, Young D, Corbishley J & Dawson C (1997) Social interaction alters attraction to competitor’s odour in the mouse Mus spretus Lataste. Animal Behaviour 54: 941-953. PDF

Hurst, J.L., Hall, S., Roberts, R. & Christian, C. (1996). Social organization in the aboriginal house mouse, Mus spretus Lataste: behavioural mechanisms underlying the spatial dispersion of competitors. Animal Behaviour, 51: 327–344. PDF

Davies IB & Gilbert F (1996)  A beetle and a fly:  mutualism or parasitism?  The Entomologist 115(3): 160-167.

Behnke, J., McGregor, P., Shepherd, M., Wiles, R., Barnard, C. J. and Gilbert, F. (1995). Identity, prevalence and intensity of infection with wing feather mites on birds (Passeriformes) from the Setubal Peninsula of Portugal. Experimental and Applied Acarology, 19: 443-458. Word Doc

Gonzalez A, Rowe CL, Weeks PJ, Whittle D, Gilbert F & Barnard CJ   (1995)   Flower choice by honey bees (Apis mellifera L.): sex-phase of flowers and preferences among nectar and pollen foragers.  Oecologia, 101: 258-264

Hurst JL & Smith J (1995) Mus spretus Lataste: a hygienic house mouse ? Animal Behaviour 49: 827-834. PDF

Hurst JL, Hayden L, Kingston M, Luck R & Sorensen K (1994) Response of the aboriginal house mouse Mus spretus Lataste to tunnels bearing the odours of conspecifics. Animal Behaviour 48: 1219-29. PDF

Behnke J.M., Barnard C.J., Hurst J.L., MCGregor P.K., Gilbert F. & Lewis J. (1993). The prevalence and intensity of infection with helminth parasites in Mus spretus from the Setubal Peninsula of Portugal. Journal of Helminthology,  67,  115-122.

Duffield G, Gibson RC, Gilhooly PM, Hesse AJ, Inkley CR, Gilbert F & Barnard CJ  (1993)  Choice of flowers by foraging honeybees (Apis mellifera L..): possible morphological cues.   Ecological Entomology 18: 191-7

Gilbert F, Haines N & Dickson K  (1991)  Empty flowers. Functional Ecology 5: 29-39

McGregor PK, Clayton HS, Kolb U, Stockley P & Young RJ (1990) Individual differences in the displays of Fan-tailed Warblers Cisticola juncidis - associations with territory and male quality. Ibis 132: 111-118 (no PDF)

Marriott D.R., Collins M.L., Paris R.M., Gudgin D.R., Barnard C.J., McGregor P.K., Gilbert F.S., Hartley J.C. & Behnke J.M. (1989). Behavioural modifications and increased predation risk of Gammarus pulex infected with Polymorphus minutus. Journal of Educational Biology 23, 135-141.