Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course aims at:
- reviewing principles, concepts, uncertainties and controversies in the study of ecological systems
- understanding physical, chemical, and biological factors governing ecosystem dynamics
- learning how ecosystem processes are analysed from a scientific perspective
- increasing the awareness about human impacts at local and global scales and their effects on ecosystems
- providing basic knowledge on management and recovery of ecosystems
- becoming familiar with scientific literature
- putting together different knowledges, facing complexity, expressing judgements
- developing discussion, communication and critical analysis skills.
The module of "Analysis of Ecological systems" is complementary to that of "Ecology" taught by Professor Pierluigi Viaroli. The two modules are evaluated independently. Admission to the exam is conditional on the passing of the "Ecology" exam. The final overall evaluation will be the weighted average of the two scores.
Course contents summary
The objective of the course is to show the students the most relevant scientific approaches that have contributed to delineating important concepts and theories on ecological systems. Structural, trophic and biological aspects will be examined. Patterns and processes will be further analysed and discussed in the light of fundamental paradigms and theories that emerged in the last decades. A particular unit of the course is dedicated to the analysis of biodiversity and to its role in ecosystem functioning.
Principles and approaches of ecology. The paradigm of complexity. Recent developments of ecology in the study of pristine and heavily stressed ecosystems. Complex adaptive systems and "balance of nature": myth or reality? Order and chaos in ecological systems. Methods of analysis. Space and time scales. Scaling processes in ecology. Disturbance and succession. Resilience and resistance. Ecosystem regime shifts. Predictivity and reliability of ecological models. Long-term ecological research. Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Ecosystem services. Ecosystem management and recovery.
Case studies and field experiences
1. Analysis of structure and functioning of lake ecosystems and potential environmental applications
1.1. Theoretical issues: how to study a lake
Morphology and morphometry
Thermal characteristics and energy balance
1.2. Environmental applications: planning and recovery of quarry lakes.
1.3. Field trip to a restored quarry lake.
2. Diversity and distribution of organisms
2.1 Theoretical issues: biodiversity and factors affecting species distribution
Definitions of biodiversity
How to measure biodiversity
Space and time patterns of biological diversity
Major threats to biodiversity
Future scenarios related to global changes
Biogeography and ecology: two views of one world
Dispersal and colonization
Metapopulations and metacommunities
The equilibrium theory by McArthur and Wilson (1967)
2.2. Ecological applications: case studies on diversity and distribution patterns of freshwater invertebrates.
2.3. Field experience: species-area relationship in permanent meadows.
3. Ecological indices and indicators
3.1. Theoretical issues: assessment of ecosystem functioning through integration of abiotic and biotic factors.
3.2. Application of the River Functionality Index.
4. Field trip to the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines (to be confirmed).
Galassi S., I. Ferrari, P. Viaroli. 2014. Introduzione all'ecologia applicata. Dalla teoria alla pratica della sostenibilità. CittàStudi, 270 pp.
Books and manuals
Gotelli, N.J. (2001). A primer of ecology. Third Edition. Sinauer Associates, 215 pp.
Muzzi E., G. Rossi (Eds). 2003. Il recupero e la riqualificazione ambientale delle cave in Emilia - Romagna. Manuale Teorico - Pratico. Regione Emilia-Romagna, 491 pp.
Siligardi M., S. Bernabei, C. Cappelletti, E. Chierici et al., 2007. I.F.F. 2007. Indice di Funzionalità Fluviale. Manuale APAT/2007, 325 pp.
Smith T.M., R.L. Smith. 2009. Elementi di Ecologia. 6^ edizione. Pearson Italia. Mondadori.
Weathers K.C., D.L. Strayer, G.E. Likens. 2013. Fundamentals of Ecosystem Science. Academic Press, 312 pp.
Conoscere un lago (http://www.ise.cnr.it/ebooks/eConoscere_lago.pdf).
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (http://www.millenniumassessment.org).
At the end of the course, the teacher will provide the students with a list of papers cited during lectures to be used for in-depth studies on a voluntary basis.
PAST: Paleontological statistics software package for education and data analysis. http://nhm2.uio.no/norlex/past/download.html
Class lectures and field activities.
Assessment methods and criteria
Learning outcomes will be evaluated through:
- the participation of students in class discussions;
- a written report about field exercises (see below the suggested format) and a 10-12 minute oral presentation on a topic chosen by the student in agreement with the teacher. A discussion will follow, during which topics of the general part of the course will be also examined.
The total score is determined as follows:
class attendance and contributions to discussion 20%
written report and discussion 40%
oral presentation and discussion 40%
Each student must submit to the teacher the report on field activities in pdf format (approximately 5-8 pages excluding references, tables and figures, 1.5 line spacing, 12 point font) at least a week before the final exam begins. The printed copy can be submitted at any time before or during the examination. The report must contain a signed statement confirming that the work is original and done entirely by the student. The score is determined on the basis of the structure and contents of the report. All sources, including Internet, must be cited and included in the list of references. The suggested format is as follows:
- a short introduction to the theoretical backgroung and objectives of the work
- materials and methods
- discussion and conclusions
- bibliography and sitography.
Moreover, at least a week before the final exam, students are requested to send to the teacher the presentation of the selected topic in pdf format (max size 1 Mb). The title page must include a statement about the originality of the work.
Students who do not meet the deadlines outlined above will need to wait for next exam date.
Plagiarism and misuse of intellectual property will be treated according to academic policies.
Attendance is required, and will be taken during lectures at various times. Students unable to attend classes because of legitimate reasons should notify the teacher and make the appropriate arrangements directly with him.