BSc Plant Science

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Human Impacts on the Biosphere (E)

Unit code BIOL31551
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


You will examine how humans impinge on the biosphere through an examination of the impact of key topics including: environmental impact of metal extraction, environmental impact of agriculture, urbanisation and environmental impact of air pollution from road transport.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Ecology & Ecosystems BIOL21211 Pre-Requisite Recommended


To provide a knowledge and understanding of:

  • How humans impinge on the biosphere through an examination of the impact of key anthropogenic stressors arising from resource exploitation and use, agriculture and urbanisation on selected ecosystems and biomes.
  • Methods and approaches - from molecular to community level - used in the assessment and prediction of human impacts on ecosystems.

Learning outcomes

Students should gain an understanding of:

  • The impact of natural resource exploitation and pollution on populations and communities through the study of important human activities, specifically resources utilisation (metal mining); agriculture; urbanisation; transport
  • Methods and approaches used in the assessment and prediction of anthropogenic impacts on key ecosystems and biomes

And be able to:

  • Appreciate the importance of connecting and integrating knowledge regarding human impacts, including on the whole biosphere and not only one sector
  • Appreciate the importance of field and laboratory studies in understanding and solving environmental problems arising from human activities
  • Critically appraise and discuss research literature regarding contemporary and controversial issues related to human impacts on the environment


•       Introduction: Population pressure and resource utilization; pollutants of land, water and air; acute and chronic pollution; standards and guidelines

•       Environmental impact of metal extraction and use Sources, behaviour and impacts; bioaccumulation and toxicity; treatment and bioremediation of land and freshwater with particular reference to mine waste

•       Environmental Impact of agriculture: Impacts on biodiversity; potential conflicts with productivity; chemical inputs and the ‘green revolution’; irrigation and salinization

•       Urbanisation: Impact of sewage on urban water quality and ecology; role of planning in pollution control and enhancing biodiversity; urbanisation and terrestrial biodiversity

•       Environmental impact of air pollution from road transport: Sources and monitoring; air pollutants from transport; impact of ozone and nitrogen dioxide on vegetation and food security

Employability skills

Analytical skills
The literature review requires analysis of primary and secondary (reviews) sources and critically evaluate experimental and field data.
The literature review requires the students to generate a case study of a human derived pollution incident therefore innovation is needed in the research ideas they identify and present.
Project management
Organise and produce literature review to specified deadline.
Oral communication
Students asked questions during lectures.
Problem solving
e-learning questions are asked throughout the course after each topic, come of which require problem solving.
Required for e-learning questions and literature review.
Written communication
Individual e-learning questions and literature review assignment plus essay questions during examination.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 75%
Written assignment (inc essay) 25%

Feedback methods

Performance in workshop questions; written feedback on coursework assignment; question/answer session in final session.

Recommended reading

Mostly primary research literature based with articles and links provided on Blackboard. The following are also recommended.

  • Williams, A E, Waterfall, R J, White, K N & Hendry, K (2010) Manchester Ship Canal and Salford Quays: industrial legacy and ecological restoration. In: Ecology of Industrial Pollution (ed: Batty, L C and Hallberg, K B). Cambridge University Press, 276-308.
  • Paul, M.J. and Meyer, J.L. (2001) Streams in an urban landscape. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 32, 333-365.
  • Wilkiins et al (2012) How is ozone pollution reducing our food supply? J. Exp. Bot. 63 (2): 527-536.
  • Lee et al (2012) Effects of roads on adjacent plant community composition and ecosystem function: An example from three calcareous ecosystems Environmental Pollution 163 (2012) 273e280
  • Peralta-Videa JR, Lopez ML, Narayan M, Saupe G, Gardea-Torresdey J. (2009) The biochemistry of environmental heavy metal uptake by plants: implications for the food chain. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 41(8-9):1665-77
  • Conesa HM, Evangelou MW, Robinson BH, Schulin R. (2012) A critical view of current state of phytotechnologies to remediate soils: still a promising tool? Scientific World Journal. 2012:173829
  • Tscharntke T, Clough Y, Wanger TC, Jackson L, Motzke I, Perfecto I, Vandermeer J, Whitbread A. 2012. Global food security, biodiversity conservation and the future of agricultural intensification. Biological Conservation 151(1): 53-59.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jon Pittman Unit coordinator

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