BIOU9CE: Community Ecology and Conservation Applications

CO-ORDINATOR: Dr Timothy Paine

Aim

Community ecology is the study of interactions among organisms and between organisms and their environment. Given the pervasive and intensifying impacts of humans on ecosystems worldwide, it is essential to train the next generation in the concepts and techniques necessary for the analysis, management and conservation of ecological communities. Simultaneously, this module will equip students with the technical skills necessary for the analysis and conservation of ecological communities. Better understanding the ecological processes that affect biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services to humans is an important training for graduates in biological and environmental sciences.

Acquired Skills

Each topic in the Community Ecology half-module will be co-taught by Timothy Paine and Nils Bunnefeld, proceeding from conceptual underpinnings to practical applications, and encouraging students to draw links among diverse ways of thinking. Additionally, students will be expected to critically assess the historical development of concepts and weigh the effectiveness of varied conservation practices.

Course Content

  • The fundamental interactions of predation, mutualism and competition, and their implications for the assembly of ecological communities.
  • The flows of matter and energy through food webs, the knock-on consequences of extinctions for their stability, and for co-occurring species.
  • The scales, patterns and causes of species diversity.
  • The factors, including anthropogenic ones, that affect community structure and dynamics.
  • The importance of ecosystem services provided my ecological communities to human societies.

Availability

Autumn, Years 3 or 4, Second half of semester

Pre-requisite

ENVU3EC: Introduction to Ecology

Teaching Programme

Over the course of five taught weeks, there will be five one-hour lectures, five three-hour lab-based practical sessions, and five one-hour discussion sessions. The lectures will present the underlying ecological theory for one of five broad topics in community ecology. These will be concretized in the computer lab, where practical lessons will be taught in the R language and environment. Finally, in the discussion sessions, students will read and contrast papers that synthesize the topic

Assessment

There will be weekly assessments based on the content of the practical and discussion sessions. At the end of the half-semester, a final exam will require the students to synthesize their understanding of the conceptual material with the practical applications. 

Reading List

It is expected that students will familiarise themselves with the primary scientific literature. This will be facilitated during the course with ample reference to original research articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that will be discussed during lectures. Reference lists and pdfs of papers (where available) will be made available ahead of lectures.

Textbook

Morin, P. J. 2011. Community Ecology, Blackwell Science

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