MSc Taxonomy and Biodiversity

Bleached coral

Bleached coral © Nicholas de Voys

One year course in taxonomy and systematics, providing the foundation for studying the great diversity of the living world, split between the Natural History Museum and Imperial College London.

Course description

This flagship course is taught mostly on the premises of the Museum and gives unparalleled access to our research staff and collections.

The course is a one-year full-time programme, but part-time options over two and three years are available.

The course consists of:

  • 20 weeks of taught modules (October to March), and includes two mini-projects in specimen-based phylogenetics and phylogenomics;
  • a student research project (14 weeks, April to September).

Aims and objectives

Students on the MSc course will be trained to a high level of competence in systematics and a detailed understanding of the various uses and problems involved.

This course provides in-depth training in the study of biodiversity based on the principles of phylogenetics, evolutionary biology, palaeobiology and taxonomy. It emphasises quantitative approaches and current methods in DNA-based phylogenetics, bioinformatics, and the use of digital collections.

Taxonomy and systematics provide the foundation for studying the great diversity of the living world. These fields are rapidly changing through new digital and molecular technologies.

There is an ever greater need for species identification and monitoring in virtually all environmental sciences, and evolutionary ‘tree thinking’ is now applied widely in most areas of the life sciences.

Course content

The taught course consists of separate modules:

  • Taxonomy of major groups and the Tree-of-Life: an introduction of major branches of the Tree, including identification exercises.
  • Statistics and computing: a two-week intensive course at Silwood Park.
  • Field course: trapping and collecting techniques for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
  • Phylogenetic reconstruction: the principles of building phylogenetic trees.
  • Molecular systematics: generating and analysing molecular data; model-based phylogenetics.
  • Phylogenomics: genomic techniques for studying evolutionary processes and biodiversity.
  • Biodiversity (concepts): speciation, radiation, macroevolution.
  • Biodiversity (applied): measuring biodiversity, geospatial analysis, collection management and biodiversity informatics.
  • Palaeobiology: studying the fossil record and what we can learn for biodiversity.

How to apply

Applications are processed through Imperial College London.

Course director

Prof Alfried Vogler

Entry requirements

The minimum qualification for admission is an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) degree in any area of biology or related science-based subject (palaeontology, geology, marine biology, anthropology, environmental sciences) from a UK academic institution, or an equivalent overseas qualification.

Extensive relevant work experience with a lower degree will be considered in special cases

Non-UK applicants

Advice on the academic requirements from overseas institutions can be found on Imperial's postgraduate website.


Fees 2015/6

Home and EU students    £9,200
Overseas students           £18,800


A number of small bursaries, up to £2,000, are available to enable good candidates to participate on the course when they otherwise would not be able to. 

Students in the past have gained funding from additional sources.

Questions about the course?