BSc Plant Science with a Modern Language / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Ecology & Ecosystems

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL21211
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


Ecology and Ecosystems outlines the interactions at the population and community level that determine distribution and abundance of organisms.Through the study of key ecosystems and biomes, the methods and approaches used in the assessment, prediction (modelling) of population and community interactions and, ecosystem change will be explored. Ecosystems that you will study include; the freshwater ecosystem, the soil ecosystem, temperate forests and, tropical grasslands and savannas. Use will be made of case studies throughout the unit.



EART 10602 Introduction to Ecology


To provide explain and describe: (i) the interactions that determine the distribution and abundance of organisms in the natural environment through the study of key ecosystems and biomes; (ii) the methods and approaches used in the assessment and prediction of population and community interactions and ecosystem change. (iii) human impact on the ecosystems and mitigation strategies.

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

• Explain the interactions at the species, population and community level that determine distribution and abundance of organisms through the study of key ecosystems and biomes;

• Describe the methods and approaches used in the assessment and prediction (modelling) of population and community interactions and ecosystem change.

• Examine key concepts from in-depth understanding of real-life context through the use of case studies


And will be able to:

• Justify the importance of descriptive, functional and evolutionary approaches in understanding how organisms interact with the biotic and abiotic environment;

• Demonstrate the importance of field and laboratory studies in testing ecological ideas.


Introduction to ecology. Definition, importance of ecology to humans; levels of organization and hierarchy; course overview/content; the hydrosphere 
The soil ecosystem (theme: community ecology)-Soil biodiversity and the structure of soil food webs; factors controlling soil food web structure; the functional role of soil organisms including symbionts; soil biodiversity and ecosystem function; plant-soil interactions and community dynamics; herbivores, soil microbes and ecosystem function. 
Temperate forests (theme: ecosystem dynamics and ecophysiology)-The deciduous forest biome; factors determining distribution; ecosystem dynamics; ecophysiology of forests; forest management; climate change.
The freshwater ecosystem (theme: ecosystem structure and nutrient cycling)- freshwater ecosystem; physical and chemical properties; gradients & ecotones; human impacts - degradation of freshwaters (eutrophication, urban stream syndrome);  management of freshwater resources.
Tropical grasslands and savannas (theme: population ecology)-Grasses and the C4 pathway; maximising fitness; life history strategies; advantages and disadvantages of group living; modelling - foraging, predator-prey and individuals

eLearning Activity

• Introduction complemented by self-directed eLearning module to ensure all students have a basic knowledge and understanding of key concepts.
• Self-directed eLearning modules will accompany each component of the unit.

Employability skills

Oral communication
Students are expected to asked questions during lectures
Problem solving
e-learning questions include those that require problem solving
Written communication
Revision multiple-choice answers plus essay/short note questions during examination.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%


2-hour written examination (90%) consisting of 4 short answer questions (50% of the total mark for the written examination) and an essay consisting of 1 out of 4 questions (50% of the total mark for the written examination).
SET EXERCISE: Online coursework assessment
ELearning exercise (10%) consisting of a single online MCQ test. The questions will test comprehension, analysis, application and knowledge of the course. 


Feedback methods

Online coursework assessment: Feedback will be provided after the assessment period with brief comments on correct answers.
Written examination: Extensive feedback will be provided on students’ scripts and they are offered an opportunity to view that feedback. 

Recommended reading


Reference: Begon, M., Howarth, R. W & Townsend, C. R. (2014) Essentials of Ecology:
Recommended:  Freshwater ecosystem: Sigee, D (2004), Freshwater Environments: the influence of physico-chemical conditions on microbial communities Aquatic Microbiology. Wiley, ISBN 0-471-48529-2
Recommended:   Soil ecosystem: Bardgett, R.D (2005) The Biology of Soil: A Community and Ecosystem Approach. Oxford University Press
Further Reading: Trees: Thomas PA and Packham JR (2007), Ecology of Woodlands and Forests. Available online via MyLibrary
Recommended:  Tropical grasslands and savannas: Stiling, P (2015) Ecology: Global Insights and Investigations 2 Edition McGraw Hill Publishers

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 78

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Cecilia Medupin Unit coordinator

Return to course details