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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

GEOG2085 Ecosystems: process, pattern, and change

20 creditsClass Size: 100

Module manager: Dr David Galbraith

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

Pre-requisite qualifications

GEOG1045 or equivalent


GEOG1045Living Planet

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module aims to provide students with an in-depth understanding of how ecosystems function. Understanding this is only possible through examination of fundamental ecological, biogeochemical and evolutionary processes. The module will include content on biogeochemical cycling within ecosystems, soil controls on ecosystem functioning, structure and function of ocean and river ecosystems and lectures on specific terrestrial ecosystems. By the end of the module, students will be able to answer questions such as: How do carbon and nitrogen move through soils, vegetation and rivers? What factors control whether trees or grasses will dominate ecosystems? How do plant ecophysiology and water biochemistry determine ecosystem responses to climate? What makes tropical forests so diverse?This module ultimately aims to shed light on the future of the biosphere in the “Anthropocene”. In a geological instant and for the first time in Earth’s history, a single species is changing the face of our planet. Deforestation, fragmentation and hunting diminish biodiversity. Atmospheric changes, including warming, increased nitrogen deposition, and elevated carbon dioxide concentrations alter the environment of even the best-protected areas. The rate of change in these basic ecological drivers may be without precedent in the evolutionary span of most species on earth today. The course assumes a basic understanding of ecology and evolution and will challenge the student to cover a lot of ground, expecting wide reading in support of lectures, and developing associated scientific skills.


On completion of this module, students should have:
(I) acquired a theoretical understanding of the key ecological and evolutionary processes that shape life on Earth, now and through Earth’s history;
(II) a working knowledge of the structure and functioning of selected biomes ;
(III) an ability to critically assess the ecological and evolutionary impacts of human actions;
(IV) developed their skills in ecosystem modelling and field techniques.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students should have gained an understanding of:
(i) Key ecological and evolutionary principles
(ii)Soil ecology and biogeochemistry
(ii)The carbon cycle and its interaction (cause, effect) with climate change
(iv)The structure and function of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems
(v) Human impacts on ecosystems

Skills outcomes
Technical computing skills, associated with simple data analysis and presentation
Technical skill of writing simple scientific reports
Technical laboratory skills, associated with water biodiversity evaluation
Technical field skills (eg field sampling for aquatic invertebrates)


There are four general strands to this module:

1. Ecosystem processes and patterns: an overview
2. Soils processes and patterns
3. Structure and Function of Aquatic Ecosystems
4. Structure and Function of Terrestrial Ecosystems

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Independent online learning hours5.00
Private study hours161.00
Total Contact hours34.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Approximately half the lectures will include a specific independent learning task, with directed questions that build on the lecture material, designed to deepen student engagement with the scientific concepts underpinning the module. Minimum time for completion is 30 minutes. The work will not be assessed formally, but similar questions may be used in exams.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Assessments will be well distributed through the module period and will include an individual ecological data report/synthesis essay, an individual laboratory practical report and a policy briefing note. The assessments will include elements requiring conceptual thinking, reading, and argument, allowing staff to monitor progress beyond simply the acquisition of technical skills. Drop-in sessions have been planned before the submission of the assessments to allow students the opportunity to have questions about the assessment answered.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
ReportAmazon carbon cycle report. Synthesis essay questions (individual, 1500 words)50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc) 2 hr 30 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:32:19


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