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School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Aquatic Ecology by Research

MSc ( 1 year Full-time / 2 years Part-time )


Aquatic ecosystems are under continued and growing threats such as habitat loss, invasive species and pollution. To conserve, manage and provide responsible and sustainable solutions to these threats requires a fundamental understanding of the structural and functional elements of ecosystems, from shallow lakes to the open oceans.

Our Aquatic Ecology by Research programme provides comprehensive practical training by application in the laboratory or field, rather than by formal tuition in the lecture theatre. This format places special emphasis on developing practical skills and the transferal of science to hands-on conservation and applied research.  QMUL is home to a leading research group in aquatic ecology, which means you will receive expert supervision and have access to advanced research facilities.

You will take three taught modules and conduct a nine-month extended project, an integral part of this programme as it will help you develop the skills required to progress onto further academic or applied research. During the research project you will be co-supervised by either established PhD students or potential employer organisations. You will also be encouraged to publish your project work.

Research and teaching 

You will have access to analytical research facilities within our Centre for the Aquatic and Terrestrial Environment, developed from an investment of £1.8 million in analytical equipment and specialist laboratory facilities. You will also have access to the Freshwater Biological Association’s River Laboratory on the River Frome in Dorset, through our River Communities research group, and to mesocosm and temperature controlled facilities at QMUL. 

By choosing to study at a Russell Group university you will have access to excellent teaching and top class research. You can find out more about our research interests and view recent publications on the School of Biological and Chemical Science's Biology research page.

Facilities and events

Centre for the Aquatic and Terrestrial Environment (CATE)

CATE at QMUL is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and the School of Geography.

CATE builds on existing research strengths in areas of environmental research such as biogeochemistry, freshwater and marine ecology, terrestrial ecology and conservation. These facilities are used either in the formal teaching of this programme or are available for individual research projects.

Dorset Field Facilities 

The Aquatic Ecology Group has a complementary unit (the River Communities Group) who do more applied research, based at the River Laboratory of the Freshwater Biological Association in Dorset. For example, we have a suite of ponds, 50% of which are heated above ambient temperatures, in which we run long-term climate change experimentation. You will have the opportunity to conduct both field work and lab projects at this site.

Aquatic Science lectures in London

You will also be able to benefit from the wealth of world-leading aquatic sciences research and lecture series taking place in London, including the following:

  • QMUL Aquatic and Whole Organism Biology Group seminar series
  • Queen Mary Geography seminar series
  • UCL Centre for Ecology and Evolution
  • London Freshwater Group
  • Institute of Fisheries Management
  • The Linnean Society

You will receive a programme of relevant lectures by email.


If you have any questions about the content or structure, contact the programme director Dr Christophe Eizaguirre

Taught modules

Your taught modules take place in blocks of two weeks of full-time teaching (normally 9am-5pm), followed by weeklong study breaks for independent learning and coursework. This structure  allows for an intensive learning experience, giving students the opportunity to immerse themselves in their subject. 

  • Ecosystems Structure and Functioning: While we have long appreciated the structure of ecosystems, the importance of ecosystem functioning has lagged behind somewhat. This module aims to redress the balance by exploring the use of modern tools which allow us to thoroughly integrate measures of ecological structure and functioning. Aspects of the Metabolic Theory of Ecology, body-size relationships, stable isotope analysis and DNA bar- coding will all be covered in relation to topics such as photosynthetic and chemosynthetic primary production; the impacts of invasive species; aquatic-terrestrial linkages and cross ecosystem boundary subsidies; biogeochemistry and nutrient dynamics; plankton dynamics and organismal physiology in a changing world.
  • Quantitative Techniques for Surveying and Monitoring in Ecology: Through a series of lectures, workshops and data analyses classes in the first week, you will learn the theory behind designing and initiating surveys and monitoring campaigns for blue skies science, conservation & for management. In the subsequent week, you will be able to put the theory into practice at a field location such as Lake Windermere and environs, undertaking electric-fishing and hydroacoustic surveys for fish populations, a census for aquatic birds, and camera-trapping for aquatic mammals. Other skills like telemetry will be demonstrated.
  • Statistics and Bioinformatics: This module is focussed on teaching data analysis using the statistical programming language R. The module covers the basics of using R; drawing publication-standard graphs with R; experimental design; exploratory data analysis; the fundamentals of statistical testing including t-tests and chi-square tests; ANOVA and Regression; fitting and interpreting general linear models; the basics of bioinformatic analysis in R. The module is taught with a mix of theory and practice, with a typical day including roughly two hours of theory instruction in the morning followed by a practical session in the afternoon, often involving hands-on analysis of real experimental data sets.

Research Project and Dissertation

In addition to three taught modules, you will conduct a nine month extended project aligned to one of the following active research areas:

  • Impacts of invasive species, particularly crayfish or amphipods, on UK waters
  • Climate change and sentinel species / ecosystems
  • Methane and its role in food webs
  • Biogeochemical cycling and up / downwelling in lotic ecosystems
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
  • Physiology of aquatic organisms in a changing climate
  • Conservation genetics for species management

Examples of recent published papers resulting from student projects

Entry requirements

A minimum of an upper second-class BSc (Hons) degree (or equivalent international qualification) in biology or other relevant natural sciences subject. Applicants with an upper second class honours degree in a non-relevant subject will be considered on a case by case basis if they have relevant professional experience in science.

English language requirements

All international students are required to provide evidence of their ability in English language.

The minimum level required for entry to our postgraduate programmes is:

  • IELTS: 6.5 overall including 6.0 in Writing and 5.5 in Reading, Listening and Speaking
  • TOEFL: 92 overall including 21 in Writing, 18 in Reading, 17 in Listening and 20 in Speaking
  • PTE Academic: 62 overall including 57 in Writing and 51 in Reading, Listening and Speaking
  • Trinity ISE: Trinity ISE II with a Distinction in Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking, or Trinity ISE III with a minimum of Pass in Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking
  • C2 Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE): 176 overall including 169 in Writing, and 162 in Reading, Listening and Speaking
  • C1 Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE): 176 overall including 169 in Writing, and 162 in Reading, Listening and Speaking  

For further information about our English language requirements please visit the QMUL international pages.

Am I eligible?

To check your eligibility contact our Postgraduate Admissions team:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 3328

Learning and teaching

Our Aquatic Ecology by Research programme combines traditional lectures and practicals with a diverse range of learning formats. Group work, student presentations and open discussion/debate are an integral part of the programme, giving you the chance to develop communication and team-working skills. We take pride in cultivating a close-knit and friendly working relationship between academics and students on this programme. You will benefit from small group teaching, normally no more than 15 students in each seminar, allowing for a more intensive learning experience and increased interaction.

Teaching and assessment

You will take three taught modules in semester A; these will be assessed through a mixture of reports, essays, practicals, presentations and multiple choice questions. These three modules make up 25% of your final grade.

Your taught modules take place in blocks of two weeks of full-time teaching (normally 9am-5pm), followed by weeklong study breaks for independent learning and coursework. Most modules are taught through lectures during the morning, with practicals, seminars, discussion groups and workshops taking place in the afternoon. You will also have opportunities for fieldwork, including a weeklong field course, which usually takes place in Cumbria.

You will spend the rest of the year on your research project and dissertation, which is 75% of the final grade. This typically involves field sampling, experimentation, laboratory work and data analysis.

Independent study

You are encouraged to use your independent study time to engage with current researchers in the labs, or volunteer for extra fieldwork, thereby giving you first-hand experience of the research environment. You will also have opportunities to attend lab meetings, shadow PhD students and gain a full understanding of the research taking place in our department before deciding on your own research project.

Dissertation topics

You will also be assessed on a supervised research project and dissertation. Recent dissertation topics by students on this programme include the following:

  • Feeding Ecology of Loggerhead Turtles revealed using stable isotopes
  • Influence of catchment urbanisation on the consumption patterns and structure of temperate, low-order stream food webs Restauration Genetics of Brown Trout in South East England
  • Biology of feeding starfish: from ecology to neurochemical physiology
  • The sustainability of common whelk (Buccinum undatum) fisheries in Kent and Essex, UK; determining growth rates, size at maturity and genetic connectivity between populations


Tuition fees for Home and EU students

2020/21 Academic Year

Full time £10,900
Part time £5,450

Tuition fees for International students

2020/21 Academic Year

Full time £22,750
Part time £11,400

Part time fees are charged per annum over two years for a two year programme and per annum over three years for a three year programme. A percentage increase may be applied to the fees in years two and three.

This increase is defined each year and published on the intranet and in the Tuition Fee Regulations. A 3% increase was applied to the unregulated university fees in 2019/20. Further information can be viewed on our University Fees webpage, including details about annual increases.


There are a number of sources of funding available for Masters students.

These include a significant package of competitive Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) bursaries and scholarships in a range of subject areas, as well as external sources of funding.

Queen Mary bursaries and scholarships

We offer a range of bursaries and scholarships for Masters students including competitive scholarships, bursaries and awards, some of which are for applicants studying specific subjects.

Find out more about QMUL bursaries and scholarships.

Alternative sources of funding

Home/EU students can apply for a range of other funding, such as Professional and Career Development Loans, and Employer Sponsorship, depending on their circumstances and the specific programme of study.

Overseas students may be eligible to apply for a range of external scholarships and we also provide information about relevant funding providers in your home country on our country web pages.

Download our Postgraduate Funding Guide for detailed information about postgraduate funding options for Home/EU students.

Read more about alternative sources of funding for Home/EU students and for Overseas students.

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 5079

Other financial help on offer at Queen Mary

We offer one to one specialist support on all financial and welfare issues through our Advice and Counselling Service, which you can access as soon as you have applied for a place at Queen Mary.

Our Advice and Counselling Service also has lots of Student Advice Guides on all aspects of finance including:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 8717

Graduate employment

On completion of the programme you will have:

  • An advanced, interdisciplinary understanding in aquatic sciences and biostatistics, and an appreciation of the current research issues.
  • Training in cutting-edge research techniques, contemporary approaches, and practical skills.
  • An enhanced experience of a working research environment.
  • A range of transferable and generic skills including research planning and experimental design, data analysis and statistics, reporting and research paper preparation.

These assets provide a strong foundation for further PhD research, or for prospective employment with environmental protection and conservation agencies, the water industry and environmental consultancies.

What are our graduates doing now?

You can hear from some of our recent graduates here.

The range of skills gained through our programmes, coupled with opportunities for extra-curricular activities, has enabled students to enter careers such as:

  • Software Engineer/Bioinformatician at European Bioinformatics Institute
  • Informatics Assistant at Blizard Institute
  • PhD Student at Queen Mary University of London
  • Bioinformatics PhD Researcher at UCL Cancer Institute
  • PhD Student at the University of Reading
  • Technology Consultant at IBM
  • Lab Technician at Queen Mary University of London
  • Aquatic Ecology PhD student at Bournemouth University
  • NERC-funded PhD Student at Queen Mary University of London
  • Marine and Freshwater Intern at Zoological Society London (ZSL)
  • Assistant Ecologist at Atkins
  • PhD Student at Queen Mary University of London
  • Assistant Ecologist at RammSanderson Ecology
  • PHD Candidate at The James Hutton Institute 
  • Botanical Horticulturalist at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 
  • Plant Science Content Editor at Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International 
  • PHSI Plant Health Import Inspector at Animal and Plant Health Agency

Careers support at Queen Mary

Throughout the course, postgraduates have access to a careers programme to prepare them for applying for work after graduation. This programme includes workshops on job hunting and job applications as well as employer events to facilitate networks and help students to explore their options. Recent career events open to the School’s postgraduates include the SBCS Industrial Liaison Forum featuring small and medium sized employers, and workshops on applying for and doing a PhD.

Queen Mary’s location between Canary Wharf, the City and the Olympic Village redevelopment means that there are substantial opportunities for on campus and local part time work and work experience. On campus there are 1200 job and volunteer opportunities ranging from E-learning Assistant to Website Administrator and from Society President to Student Mentor. QTemps job agency offers work suitable for current students and recent graduates, QMSU Volunteering facilitates volunteering and QM JobOnline hosts over 800 part time and full time job vacancies.

  • Read more about our careers programmes and range of work experience opportunities on the QM Careers pages.


Stuart Negus - MSc Aquatic Ecology by Research (graduated 2017)

Now PhD student on London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership

My Master's degree was MSc Aquatic Ecology by Research, but despite the title of the degree I was exposed to many different disciplines within biological science. Some of these I had touched upon in greater detail than in my undergraduate degree, such as ecological monitoring. However I learnt a vast amount in greater detail, including interesting topics I had never even heard of before, such as biogeochemistry. At Queen Mary we had learnt many different skills, particularly the demon that is statistical analysis - but the lectures were fun and engaging which made learning complex statistics more digestible and easy. A particular highlight was the focus on the research project for the final half of the year, where I was actively involved in novel research of loggerhead turtle feeding ecology across different time scales. This provided opportunities to not only to carry a project from concept into fruition, but also helped me to establish strong connections within the lab I worked in - where I ended up helping as a research assistant for further data collection after my Master's. I fully recommend Queen Mary, as it helped me to mature as scientific researcher and has no doubt played a vital part in my career development particularly in achieving a PhD scholarship with the London NERC DTP.