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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Postgraduate Courses (School of GeoSciences)

Postgraduate Course: Ecosystem Services 1: Ecosystem Dynamics and Functions (PGGE11170)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryWe all depend on a vast range of services provided by ecosystems, from food and medicines to a stable climate, clean water and storm protection. This course provides an introduction to the ecosystem ecology underlying these services, in particular looking at how ecosystems are structured and function. The course has a practical ethos and involves fieldwork and analysis of real data from around the globe. It is suitable for students with a wide range of backgrounds, but you will need to quickly develop competence in managing data with Excel. The course looks at the dynamic nature of ecosystems, which often behave as complex systems. Different ways of representing and modelling such systems are explored through practical exercises and case studies. The course provides students with the core ecosystem science needed for Ecosystem Valuation and Management in semester 2.
Course description W1 Overview of Ecosystem Concepts and Global Change
W2 Ecosystems and the global carbon cycle
W3 Fieldwork practical: the structure of forests
W4 Nutrient cycles
W5 Biodiversity: what is it and how do we measure it?
W6 Biodiversity & ecosystem function
W7 Landscape Ecology
W8 Student presentations on ecosystem structure
W9 Ecosystems as dynamic systems
W10 Modelling human-ecological systems: an example of the global carbon cycle
W11 Overview, feedback and exam preparation
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the fundamental principles of ecosystem ecology, including how ecosystem structure relates to function, and what drives the dynamics of ecosystems.
  2. Measure and model ecosystem structure and function, manage data, and analyse large ecological data sets.
  3. Appreciate the diversity of ecosystem functions and expressions across different time, space and biome scales, and illustrate them through case studies.
  4. Appreciate how ecosystems respond to, and feedback on, global change drivers including climate change, land use change, and biodiversity loss.
Reading List
Reading lists will be provided for each week on Learn.
The following texts are used throughout the course:
1. Chapin, Matson and Vitousek (2011) Principles of terrestrial ecosystem ecology. 2nd edition. Springer. This is available as an e-book from the library catalogue. There are also hard copies in the library.
2. Haefner, J. (2005). Modeling Biological Systems: Principles and Applications. 2nd edition. Springer. This is available as an e-book from the library catalogue. There are also hard copies in the library.

The best prep you can do for this course is to read and work on the review questions in chapters 1, 2, 3, 14 and 15 of Chapin et al and chapters 1-3 of Haefner.

You should also make sure you are comfortable plotting graphs in Excel, organizing data sets and writing equations. This includes filtering lists and using pivot tables. The University provides training and online support for Excel at:
Also see:

If you are already comfortable with Excel, then I suggest that you learn how to use the free, open source data analysis and statistics package called R. The best way to do this is to get hold of:
Gardener, M (2012). Statistics for Ecologists Using R and Excel. Pelagic Publishing Ltd. [e-book in library]

Other literature which gives a flavour of the course content includes:
3. Steffen, W., J. Grinevald, P. Crutzen and J. McNeill (2011). "The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. 369(1938): 842-867.
4. Curtis, A (2011). The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts. Part 2 in the BBC TV documentary series All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace. Available online.
5. Gruber N, Galloway JN (2008) An Earth-system perspective of the global nitrogen cycle. Nature 451: 293-296
6. Hooper, D.U. et. al. (2005) Effect of Biodiversity on Ecosystem Functioning: A Consensus of Current Knowledge. Ecological Monographs, 75 (1), 2005, pp 3 - 35.
7. Post, ERO et al (1999). Ecosystem consequences of wolf behavioural response to climate. Nature 401(6756): 905-907.
8. Biggs, R., Carpenter, S.R., Brock, W.A. (2009) Turning back from the brink: Detecting an impending regime shift in time to avert it. PNAS vol 106, no.3, 826-831.
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills Ecological field work, data collection and management, data analysis using Excel, systems thinking and modelling. Summarising complex scientific issues for non-scientific audiences. Group work and presentations.
KeywordsEcosystem functions,ecosystem dynamics,biogeochemical cycles,productivity,biodiversity,climate
Course organiserDr Caroline Lehmann
Tel: (0131 6)50 6125
Course secretaryMiss Susie Crocker
Tel: (0131 6)51 7126
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