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

Postgraduate Course: Soil Ecology and Taxonomy (PGGE11221)

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
Summary¿In addition to sustaining 95% of food production, soils host more than a quarter of the planet¿s biodiversity, are a major source of pharmaceuticals, and play a critical role in the carbon cycle. At the same time, the level of soil degradation (estimated at 33% globally) is alarming and has the potential to threaten food security and send many people into poverty¿ Moujahed Achouri, Director of the FAO Land and Water Division.

Healthy soils contain millions of diverse living organisms, ranging from a myriad of invisible microbes, bacteria and fungi to macro-fauna such as earthworms and termites. Soils contain more living organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on Earth with up to 90% of living organisms living or spend part of their lifecycle in soils. Soil is a living resource containing more than 25% of our plant¿s biodiversity. These diverse organisms interact with one another and with the various plants and animals in the ecosystem, forming a complex web of biological activity.
Maintaining soil biodiversity for good soil health is vital for soil fertility, agricultural production and providing global food security. Soils contain approximately twice the amount of carbon than is currently contained in the atmosphere. Managing soil health can lead to the conservation of soil carbon pools and in some cases increase soil carbon sequestration, which can help offset greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change mitigation. Soil organisms have the ability to break down certain contaminants mitigating against some forms of soil pollution.
It is estimated that only 1% of soil microorganisms species are currently known compared to 80% of plant species. However, growing pressures from increasing global population, erosion and degradation and climate change are threatening soil biodiversity and soil health. In the Soil Ecology and Taxonomy course, we introduce you to soils and soil biodiversity in terms of the major participants involved in key soil processes, functions, fertility and overall soil health. In addition, the course discusses the challenges soils face in relation to degradation, pollution and intensification. The course will explore strategies to improve sustainable soil use to conserve soil biodiversity while maintaining functions and ecosystem services.
Course description Monday 09:00 ¿ 13:00 GMT, Semester 1. SRUC, Kings Buildings, Edinburgh.

The course will be delivered over the following 10 teaching periods:

Week 1: 19.09.22
Lecture Theme: Fundamentals of Soil Science
Content Description: Soil formation, composition and development. Soil characterisation and key properties. Soil Functions and Ecosystem Services
Lecturer: Dr Sarah Buckingham, SRUC

Week 2: 26.09.22
Lecture Theme: An Introduction to Soil Biology
Content Description: From genes to ecosystem services: Soil microbiological groups & food web. Who are the key players, groups and hierarchy
Lecturer: Dr Peter Hoebe, SRUC

Week 3: 03.10.22
Lecture Theme: Role of Soil Ecology in Decomposition and Nutrient Cycling
Content Description: Resource quality and litter breakdown and decomposition; Role of soil fauna in nutrient cycling and nutrient turnover
Lecturer: Dr Stephanie Jones, SRUC

Week 4: 10.10.22
Lecture Theme: Soil Health
Content Description: What is Soil health (characteristics & indicators of healthy soils and role of microorganisms as indicators); Soil biological management for sustainable soil health
Lecturer: Dr Stephanie Jones, SRUC

Week 5: 17.10.22
Lecture Theme: Agroecology
Content Description: Role of soil biology in agronomic management in sustainable agriculture. Ecosystem recovery and resilience
Lecturer: Dr Paul Hargreaves, SRUC

Week 6: 24.10.22
Lecture Theme: Field Excursion: Land Management Case Studies
Content Description: Field excursion to Tweed Valley Forum - land management case studies (E.g. Peatland restoration, Flood Management, Habitat creation, Riparian woodlands, Land use challenges, Carbon storage. Making space for Farming, Forestry and Conservation). Field Excursion
Lecturer: Derek Robeson, Tweed Valley Forum & Dr Sarah Buckingham, SRUC

Week 7: 31.10.22
Lecture Theme: Soil Ecological Bioremediation 1
Content Description: Microbially driven bioremediation of metal contaminants. Theory and latest research advances in this field
Lecturer: Dr Luis Novo, SRUC

Week 8: 07.11.22
Lecture Theme: Soil Ecological Bioremediation 2
Content Description: Microbially driven bioremediation of organic (hydrocarbon) contaminants. Including site investigation and engineering aspects to put it into an industrial context
Lecturer: Dr Tom Aspray, Environmental Reclamation Services Ltd

Week 9: 14.11.22
Lecture Theme: Assessed presentations
Content Description: List of titles to be agreed beforehand. This will be discussed in Week 1
Lecturer: TBC

Week 10: 21.11.22
Lecture Theme: Laboratory session
Content Description: Overview of some soil biological methods as well as reviewing the course content with open discussion
Lecturer: Dr Sarah Buckingham, SRUC
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Additional Costs No
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  40
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 10, Formative Assessment Hours 10, Summative Assessment Hours 10, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 136 )
Additional Information (Learning and Teaching) 20% for oral presentation 30% for poster 50% for essay
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 20% for oral presentation
30% for poster
50% for essay

Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the key groups of soil biota and identify the role of these groups in ecosystem processes and services
  2. Develop fundamental knowledge of biological interactions contributing to major biogeochemical nutrient cycles, climate change mitigation and the role of soil biology in agricultural production and alleviating pollution
Reading List
As the course covers many different topics, further online reading guidance specific to each topic is provided within lecture material weekly.
However if you are new to soil science and are keen to conduct some preliminary background reading, the following textbooks provide valuable background material for the course.

Online Resources:
¿ FAO Soils Portal
¿ FAO Status of the World¿s Resources:
¿ Global Soil Partnership ¿ Global Soil Threats by region:
¿ Valuing your soils:
¿ Valuing your Soils Brochure: Practical Guidance for Scottish Farmers:

Books providing a general background to the topic:
*We do not expect you to purchase these books to undertake the course, reading material will be provided weekly*
David Coleman Mac Callaham D. Crossley, Jr. (2017) Fundamentals of Soil Ecology. Ebook ISBN: 9780128052525. Paperback ISBN: 9780128052518. Academic Press. November 2017
Diana H. Wall, Richard D. Bardgett, Valerie Behan-Pelletier, Jeffrey E. Herrick, T. Hefin Jones, Johan Six, Donald R. Strong, Wim H. Van Der Putten, Karl Ritz (2012) Oxford University Press
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills Students will acquire and develop the following transferable
1. General analytical understanding of tests pertinent to soil biota assessment in a range of setting and environments
2. Organisation skills to plan, execute and report on
scientific investigation.
3. To participate in individual and team activities toward the completion of assignments and goals.
4. Critically evaluate literature, to identify gaps in knowledge, synergies.
Special Arrangements None
Study Abroad No
Keywordsaxonomy,Biodiversity,Function,Land Use and Ecosystem Services
Course organiserDr Jennifer Carfrae
Tel: 0131 535 4417
Course secretaryMs Jennifer Gumbrell
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