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

Postgraduate Course: Ecosystems and Global Change (PGGE11247)

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 Service Values in semester 2.
Course description Week 1: Overview of Ecosystem Concepts and Global Change
Week 2: Ecosystems and the global carbon cycle
Week 3: Fieldwork practical: the structure of forests
Week 4: Nutrient cycles
Week 5: Biodiversity: what is it and how do we measure it?
Week 6; Biodiversity & ecosystem function
Week 7: Landscape ecology
Week 8: Student presentation on ecosystem structure
Week 9: Ecosystems as dynamic systems
Week 10: Modelling global (eco)systems: an example of the global carbon cycle
Week 11: Overview, feedback and exam preparation
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  35
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 44, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 152 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 40 %, Coursework 60 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework: 60%, Exam: 40%

3 page policy brief on a key issue of ecosystem functioning: 30%
Ecosystem structure practical group presentation: 30%
Exam: 40%
Feedback Not entered
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S1 (December)2:00
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, Matsoun and Vitousek (2011) Principles of terrestrial ecosystem ecology. 2nd edition. Springer.
2) Haefner, J (2005) Modeling Biological Systems: Principles and Applications. 2nd edition. Springer.

Other literature which gives you a flavour of the course content includes:
1) 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
2) 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.
3) Gruber N, Galloway JN (2008). An Earth-system perspective of the global nitrogen cycle. Nature 451: 293-296
4) 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
5) Post, ERO et al (1999). Ecosystem consequences of wolf behavioural response to climate. Nature 401 (6756): 905-907
6) 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
Graduate Attributes and Skills Data collection and management, data analysis using Excel, systems thinking and modelling. Summarising complex scientific issues for non-scientific audiences. Group work for presentations.
KeywordsEcosystem functions,ecosystem dynamics,biogeochemical cycles,productivity,Climate change
Course organiserDr Casey Ryan
Tel: (0131 6)50 7722
Course secretaryMs Heather Dyson
Tel: (0131 6)51 7126
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