MSc Environmental Monitoring, Modelling and Reconstruction

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Green Planet: Planet Ecology and Global Change

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG61041
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This unit sits within the subject area of biogeography with a particular focus on plants and vegetation and the role they play in the Earth system. The unit covers essential science in the areas of plant science and ecology but without prerequisite knowledge in this area. The unit explores a range of contemporary issues such as climate change, human impact on the environment, global biogeochemical cycles and conservation. Key topics to be covered include:

  • Origins and evolution of plant life
  • History, concepts and practice of vegetation description
  • Key concepts in vegetation dynamics: resources, stress, competition and disturbance
  • Vegetation-climate feedbacks
  • Photosynthesis and the global carbon cycle
  • Vegetation response to a warming world
  • Conserving the Green Planet


·         to understand the main factors that influence the growth and distribution of plant species at local to global scales

·         to appreciate the role of the biosphere in the shaping of the Earth's climate

·         to explore vegetation-climate interactions at a range of spatial and temporal scales

·         to assess the vulnerability of plants and ecosystems to anthropogenic impacts and climate change

·         to develop awareness of methodological approaches in ecology and biogeography

Teaching and learning methods

The course unit will be delivered via lectures, a field class, seminars, and a museum visit. The lectures will include time for interaction via class discussion, consolidation sessions and revision exercises.
Students are expected to read widely to support the classes and undertake the support activities as
instructed for each class. The fieldclass and seminars are an integral part of the course and students
will be expected to work in small groups to prepare materials for presentation and discussion. Subject to restrictions on group activities and social distancing, the field visit can be undertaken virtually via video resources on BB and the museum seminar can be delivered online; students engaging in distance learning only will have those options. Learning will be supported via the course Blackboard site, which will provide access to course materials and wider resources in the areas of biogeography and ecology.

Knowledge and understanding

  • describe the main factors that influence the distribution and composition of vegetation at local to global scales including climate, soils and ecological interactions

Intellectual skills

  • evaluate the implications of climate change for plant diversity and the role of global vegetation in future climate change scenarios
  • assess critically the variety of techniques and information used to study vegetation and vegetation climate interactions, including physiological experiments in controlled environments, observational studies based on long–term data sets, field manipulation experiments, historical records, and modelling

Practical skills

  • design a research project relating to a local case study in plant ecology and global change impacts

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • develop skills in critical reading, academic writing including bibliographic skills, presentation and formatting of a research proposal

Assessment methods

This course will be assessed on the basis of

Formative: Research Proposal - Draft Project Synopsis: 1 page A4

Summative (100%): Research Proposal: 8 pages A4, including figures, tables and references, minimum margins 2cm (all sides) and minimum font Arial size 11

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit

Formative: Research Proposal - Draft Project Synopsis: Individual written feedback via Blackboard Turnitin

Summative: Research Proposal: Individual written feedback via Blackboard Turnitin

Recommended reading

  • Adams, J. 2010. Vegetation-Climate Interaction: How Vegetation Makes the Global Environment, 2nd edition. Chichester: Springer-Praxis. (available as e-book)
  • Beerling, D. 2007. The Emerald Planet: How plants changed Earth's history. Oxford: OUP.
  • Bonan, G.B. 2015. Ecological Climatology: Concepts and Applications, 3rd edition. Cambridge:
    Cambridge University Press. (available as e-book; the 2008 or 2002 editions are also good).
  • Breckle, S.-W. 2002. Walter's Vegetation of the earth : the ecological systems of the geo-biosphere. Berlin: Springer.
  • Chapin, F.S. III, P.A. Matson and H.A. Mooney. 2012 (and previous editions). Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology. NY: Springer. (full text available via JRUL web catalogue)
  • Cox, C.B. and Moore, P.D. 2016. Biogeography: an ecological and evolutionary approach, 9th edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publications. (available as e-book).
  • Keddy, P.A. 2007. Plants and Vegetation: Origins, Processes, Consequences. Cambridge University Press.
  • Kent, M. 2011. Vegetation description and data analysis. 2nd Edition. Chichester: Wiley.
  • King, J. 2011. Reaching for the Sun: How plants work, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Study hours

    Scheduled activity hours
    Fieldwork 6
    Lectures 18
    Seminars 6
    Independent study hours
    Independent study 120

    Teaching staff

    Staff member Role
    William Fletcher Unit coordinator

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