BS-2065: Principles of ecology & conservation biology
Semester 1 | Credits: 10
The module is designed to provide an understanding of the ecological principles behind the structure and function of land and freshwater ecosystems. It will enable you to interpret the changes in ecosystems, and separate those that are natural (succession, seasonality) from those that are not (past and present human impacts). With this understanding you will be able to evaluate the need for conservation of 'biodiversity' - the natural world.
By the end of the module students should be able to:
Safely conduct ecological fieldwork.
Explain the structure and process in ecosystems.
Evaluate the changes in habitat structure in an ecosystem due to natural succession and understand the extent to which conservation management is the management of successional processes.
Assess the relative importance of abiotic factors influencing ecosystems in contrast to biotic factors from within the systems.
Make a balanced assessment of the conflicts between conservation and other competing land uses.
Appreciate the nature of landscape ecology and the importance of spatial relationships of such features as corridors & mosaics.
Adopt a global attitude towards natural ecosystems in biomes and the large-scale processes which govern their diversity
The module will teach you about ecology – species, populations, communities, ecosystems & biomes together with the abiotic factors, which regulate their structure and processes. Practical exercises will be carried out each day, in different ecosystems in South West Wales.
The aspects of ecology taught are summarized below, in a logical order (but not necessarily in the temporal order taught). P represents material taught in practicals and L lectures.
Abiotic factors and their effects (L)
Soil formation and structure.
Physical effect of solar radiation on water bodies - Lake stratification and mixing; oxygen distribution as a result of euphotic zone.
Seasonal change which results leading to the “paradox of the plankton” (link to 5).
Downstream changes in river ecosystems expressed as “the river continuum concept”
Intertidal systems structured according to the physical pressures of disturbance, salinity, exposure (key information is expressed in in the kite diagrams of gradients).
Distribution of running water invertebrates along a salinity gradient (P)
Population characteristics – distribution and the “metapopulation” concept. Distribution on small scales. Large scale gradients (L)
Population life tables. Survivorship curves (I II III). Growth rates and growth curves. Concept of “r” & “K” selection. Population dispersal. (L)
Orielton woodland. Soil structure; tree density - species diversity; methods of sampling populations – mark-recapture (P)
Reproductive strategies - Grimes’ 3 plant stategies; Winemiller & Rose’s 3 animal strategies; Charnov’s dimensionless life history strategies. (L)
“Competition exclusion principle” – examples from rocky shore barnacles, rock pool winkles, planktonic algae. (L)
Zonation of a rocky shore. Competition (barnacles) – Mann-Whitney U test; discontinuous distribution (whelks) (P)
Predation as a factor creating population cycles. Predation effects at community level - examples from rocky shore. “Keystone” species – those which modify the community they inhabit depending upon their density. (L)
“Niche concept” Realised and fundamental. Concept of “intermediate disturbance” maintaining more niche space by compressing realised niches, hence maximising biodiversity in ecosystems. (L)
Primary succession on sand dunes - NVC classification; hydrosere on edge of a lake (P)
Primary production. Global limits and patterns to production on land and the sea. Trophic dynamic concepts of ecosystems; example of a whole ecosystem energy flow. (L)
Nutrient cycling. P, N and C – similarities and differences. Decomposition as the process that links energy flow and nutrient cycling. Spiralling in streams. Evidence for the tight cycling by whole-ecosystem experiments (Hubbard Brook) (L)
Food web in a pond. Structure of calcareous – ‘mesotrophic lakes’ (P)
Landscape scale ecology – fragmentation, its measurement and its use in restoration ecology (territory size, dispersal; example of red kite in UK). Corridors. (L)
- The “Theory of Island Biogeography”. Examples to test the theory.
- Concepts of “stability” – resistance and resilience. Species gradients across the globe and explanations for them.
Project. Hypothesis-testing (P)
The course is assessed in the following way:-
50% as one 2 hour examination, January 2011
- One hour will be 5 short answer questions.
- The remaining hours will consist of two essay questions from a choice of 4.
50% based on the 3 assignments
The deadline for submission of the module assignments is:
- First, Friday October 15th
- Second, Friday October 23rd
- Third, Friday November 12th
- Fourth (Project), Friday December 17th
THREE FROM (YOU CANNOT WRITE A PROJECT & A SCIENTIFIC ACCOUNT FROM SAME ECOSYSTEM):-
- “Population ecology of barnacles, limpets and periwinkles on rocky shores in Wales”
- “The ecology of a calcareous lake system, Bosherston, in Wales”
- “The succession of plant communities on sand dunes in West Wales”
- “Factors influencing the distribution and abundance of lotic aquatic organisms in Pembrokeshire”.
The Course Texbooks are:
- Beeby A & Brennan A-M (2009), First Ecology: Ecological Principles and Environmental Issues, Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition.
- Molles, M.C. (2010) Ecology: Concepts and Application, MacGraw_Hill, 5th Edition.
Other Recommended Books are:
- Sodhi, N. S. Ehrlich P. R. (2009) Conservation Biology for All
Oxford University Press (2010)
- Field Studies Council Guides for the relevant habitat types and taxa
- Invertebrates and seaweeds, Rocky shores
- Freshwater invertebrates
- Freshwater plants
- Water birds
- Sand dune plants
- Woodland trees
- Sand dunes
- Rocky shores
- Rodwell, JS (2000) British Plant Communities Volume 5 - Maritime communities and vegetation of open habitats, Cambridge University Press.
Suitable original scientific articles can be found in the following journals
- Field Studies
- Journal of Animal Ecology, Journal of Ecology, Journal of Marine Biology and many others. Follow the reference lists in the textbooks and in the articles in Field Studies.
Remember - never cite a reference which you have not yourself tracked down and read