Learning outcomes of the course unit
Students attending this course are expected to tackle analysis, assessment and management of complex environmental issues, which challenge the human society.
This course has four main aims.
1) To analyse the outcomes of the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, in order to identify the contribution of ecology at solving the main problems of the human society. Special attention is paid to ecosystem goods and services, ecosystem degradation and potential for recovery.
2) To focus on biogeochemical processes that support selected ecosystem services, in order to provide tools for a quantitative assessment of such services.
3) To test at the local/regional scale the effectiveness of the ecosystem service approach, through the analysis of study cases.
4) To approach the restoration ecology as a tool for managing and repairing degraded ecosystems.
Objectives 1 and 2 address advanced knowledge and understanding that underpin the capacity of analysing, assessing and managing ecosystems in a problem solving fashion.
Objectives 3 and 4 are finalized at achieving the ability to use ecological concept, theories and data to identify problems, to critically evaluate alternatives and formulate correct responses.
Concurrently, students are trained to communicate with peers, supervisors and clients and to demonstrate they have skills for undertaking further studies and activities with some autonomy.
Basic background in ecology
Course contents summary
This course composes of four sections.
In the first section the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment is presented as a reference context, which aims at empahsizing the key role ecosystems play for human wellbeing.
In the second section processes, good and services of ecosystems are analysed in a quatitative manner, with both functional and biogeochemical approaches. The main focus is on critical factors that control and drive ecosystem processes.
In the third section altered processes and ecosystem management are analysed with the DPSIR scheme, emphasizing the tight links between pressures, impacts and responses (prevention, remedial and adaption).
In the fourth section, the restoration ecology is proposed as a tool for managing conservation, recovery and restoration of ecosystems. This latter section is based on study cases.
Millenium Ecosystem Assessment as a reference context. Processes, good and services of ecosystems. Changes and persistence of ecosystems. Resilience, stability, thresholds and shifts, sustainability.
Processes, good and services of ecosystems - a biogeochemical approach. Hydrological cycle and water supply. Primary productivity, decomposition and processes of C cycle. Carbon sinks. Processes and regulation of N, P, S, Fe cycling. Biogeochemical buffering capacity.
Altered processes and ecosystem management. Soil uses. Agriculture and animal husbandry. Bioenergetic crops. Nitrogen contamination. Acidification and regulation of CO2 cycle. Lake and coastal eutrophication. Global changes and aquatic ecosystem processes (meromixis, hypoxia, anoxia)
Study cases analysed with the DPSIR scheme. The Po river watershed. The Mincio river. The meromictic Lake Idro. Shellfish farming in the Sacca di Goro lagoon.
Conservation, recovery and restoration of aquatic ecosystems. Restoration ecology of pit lakes. Rehabilitation and restoration of wetlands in the Mincio River watershed. Restoration of coastal lagoon.
Reports downloadable from the MILLENIUM ECOSYSTEM ASSESSMENT web page (http://www.maweb.org/en/index.aspx): 1) Ecosystems and Human Well-being. Synthesis. 2) Ecosystems and Human Well-being: wetlands and water. Synthesis. 3) Ecosystems and Human Well-being. A Framework for Assessment.
Notes and slides downloadable from the box "materiale didattico"
Recommended for reading:
1) van Andel J., Aronson J., 2006. Restoration Ecology. The New Frontier. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA, USA.
2) Provini A., Galassi S., Marchetti R., 1998. Applied ecology. CittaStudi, Milano (in Italian)
Lectures on the main issues of applied ecology (40% of credits). Presentation and discussion of study cases (20% of credits). Student workshop on ecosystem services (20% of credits). Students self-organize and manage the workshop with power point presentations, with strict rules: 10 slides, 10 minutes and 10 question to be asked during the discussion. On site activity in selected study case (20% of credits).
Assessment methods and criteria
The student formation is mainly oriented at analyzing and solving environmental problems that affect the human society and its activities. At the end of the course, the acquired skills enable students to critically analyze the ecological implications of environmental problems. They can distinguish between natural and altered processes, they are able to identify the main causal factors of the alterations, they can identify the critical components and are able propose possible solutions.
The preparation is assessed at two levels.
1)During the course, students are requested to self-organize and self-manage a workshop on "ecosystem services". The students identify and assign topics to be presented and discussed with 10 slides, 10 minutes for presentation and 10 minutes for discussion. All students are required to ask questions and to participate in the debate. The teacher assists without intervening. The presentation assessment composes of 3 parts: scientific content (50%), presentation quality (25%) and discussion (25%).
2)At the end of the course, students identify a topic in agreement with the teacher as an examination subject. The activity deals with designing an ecological restoration intervention. The exam is based on the presentation and discussion of this topic, paying special attention to the ecological skills and tools that enable to solve the problem. The evaluation composes of 2 parts: scientific and technical content (50%) and discussion (50%).