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

Postgraduate Course: Ecological Processes in Soils (PGGE11304)

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
SummaryHealthy 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 INTRODUCTIONS
- Course outline and assessment
- Historical perspectives
- Ecosystem functions, goods and services

- Survey of the soil biota
- Biodiversity concepts, evolutionary and theoretical basis
- Population dynamics
- Soil as a habitat

- Process measurements
- Quantification and identification of microorganisms
- Assessing functional and physiological diversity
- Isotopes and soil ecology
- Genomics and soil ecology
- Diversity concepts, assessment and indices

- Carbon cycling and energy
- Community structures
- Biological weathering and soil formation
- Nutrient cycling, biogeochemistry and thermodynamics
- The nitrogen cycle
- Biogeochemical cycle of phosphorus
- Biogeochemical cycle of sulphur
- Plant-soil-microbe interactions

- Exploitation and management of the soil biological community
- Soil fertility and productivity
- Environmental change and sustainability
- Human health
- Concepts of soil quality and soil health
- Global patterns of soil biodiversity
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  45
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 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Assess the diversity, abundance, and interactions of organisms in soils.
  2. Review the ecological processes, especially biogeochemical cycling, undertaken by soil organisms.
  3. Critique the management of soil biological responses to deliver ecosystem services.
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
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.
Keywordstaxonomy,Biodiversity,Function,Land Use and Ecosystem Services
Course organiserDr Jennifer Carfrae
Tel: 0131 535 4417
Course secretaryMs Jennifer Gumbrell
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