BA Geography with International Study

Year of entry: 2024

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

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG31042
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
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
•Tropical forests
•Vegetation-climate feedbacks
•Photosynthesis and the global carbon cycle
•Vegetation response to a warming world
• Quantifying the human footprint on the Green Planet
•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


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


Teaching and learning methods

Throughout the semester, the weekly activities will be split between online delivery (video lecture segments, online resources, task sheet activities – equivalent to 2 hours contact per week) and face-to-face discussion seminars (1 hour per week). Instructions and guidance for independent study beyond these hours will be delivered both online in Blackboard and discussed in the seminars.

The timetabled sessions will include:
1) Online lectures (equivalent to 2 hours) – course leader and students will gather online in Blackboard Collaborate for a brief weekly meeting to introduce the weekly topic, materials and activities. Students will be free to work through video recordings, readings, and other resources in Blackboard (quizzes and task sheets) at their own pace. In many weeks, tasks will be set to be completed for the discussion seminar – sometimes this will include individual reading and writing assignments and in others there will be team-based work to be delivered in the seminar. The course leader will be available online for a timetabled two hour lecture slot in to provide a live online “launch” to the weekly topic and during which the students can then begin to explore the online materials knowing that the leader is available to answer any immediate questions. In this way, the students will have the flexibility to study asynchronously while maintaining a fixed point of contact within the weekly timetable to assist in maintaining good study habits and motivation.
2) Discussion seminars, synchronous (1 hour) – a synchronous discussion-oriented class will be held on campus.  In the seminar sessions we will cover the answers/responses to tasks set in the online lectures, reporting back or delivering mini-presentations. Time during the seminars will also be dedicated to preparation, guidance and formative feedback for the assessments.
3) a visit to the Manchester Museum to the Herbarium and Fossils gallery
4) a local half-day fieldtrip to learn about current issues in biogeography, ecology and conservation in the Manchester area

There will also be ample opportunities for Q&A and open discussion during both the lecture and seminar sessions, as well as via the Discussion Board area in Blackboard. From Week 1 onwards we will be setting up Study Teams to support community building and facilitate discussion activities.

Students are expected to read widely to support their learning and undertake the support activities as
instructed for each class. The fieldclass, Museum visit 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.

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

  • Discuss 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

Practical skills

  • present a research proposal and justify a programme of research design and data analysis in plant ecology
  • exercise and refine skills in in bibliographic researching
  • hone their skills in developing and maintaining a convincing line of written argument for a well-defined topic of their choice


Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • improve verbalcommunication and writing skills
  • practice cooperative learning in discussion classes
  • improve time management and independent study skills

Assessment methods


Formative Assessment Task      Length (word count/time)   How and when feedback is provided

Draft Research Proposal synopsis    200 words                         Individual oral feedback (recorded) via                                                                                                                                           Blackboard Turnitin

Assessment task                Length          How and when feedback is provided   Weighting

Research proposal, related     1500 words        Individual written feedback                 50%
to the local fieldtrip                                             via Blackboard Turnitin

Coursework Essay               1500 words           Individual written feedback                50%
                                                                           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.
• Thomas, P. and Packham, J.R. 2007. Ecology of Woodlands and Forests: Description Dynamics and Diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (available as e-book)
• Walker, T. 2012. Plants: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
• Willis, K.J. and J.C. McElwain. 2013. The Evolution of Plants, 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 6
Lectures 18
Seminars 6
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
William Fletcher Unit coordinator

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