Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course is offered to students of the 2nd year of the Master's degree who are expected to deal with the assessment and management of complex environmental issues that are relevant to human society.
Four main goals are proposed.
1) Analyze the great picture of the implications of ecological processes for human society referring to the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and projects such as TEEB and PEER. In this context, the main ecosystem services, the state of conservation and degradation of ecosystems, and the potentials of restoring degraded ecosystems are illustrated. A major focus is on aquatic ecosystems and wetlands.
2) Illustrate and discuss major biogeochemical processes that support key ecosystem services, emphasizing their quantitative aspects.
3) Evaluate how such processes and related ecosystem services can be managed at the local/regional scale.
4) Address the restoration ecology as a tool for restoring degraded ecosystems. This goal is achieved by addressing case studies at local/regional level.
Objectives 1 and 2 are aimed at completing basic knowledge and acquiring new knowledge and skills in ecosystem ecology.
Objectives 3 and 4 are aimed at the application of acquired knowledge in a professional context, whereby the ability to identify and analyze problems is required, as well as to propose solutions. In parallel, the students are trained at developing communication, judgment and self-learning abilities.
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 knowledge from the undergraduate program
Basic background in ecology
Course contents summary
The course composes of three parts.
Part 1 addresses the main concepts on the ecosystem structure and processes which are relevant to environmental management. This activity aims at harmonizing the background knowledge and skills of students coming from different undergraduate degrees and formation pathways.
Part 2 provides the presentation of ecosystem services, and green and blue infrastructures as systems that provide their availability. The ecological and economic concepts are integrated to assess the potentialities and limits of ecosystem services in environmental management.
Part 3 addresses ecosystem management and restoration. The basic concepts and methods of restoration ecology are presented as modes of managing altered ecosystems.
This part of the course is organized with case studies, in collaboration with experts.
Case 1. Soil degradation and consumption, and sustainable soil management.
Case 2. Ecological and hydrological restoration of ditches and channels in the farmland in Emilia-Romagna region.
Case 3. Ecological restoration and conservation of lowland springs in the Spring Natural Reserve at Corte Valle Re (RE).
Case 4. Environmental design and ecological restoration of quarries in the Po river flood plain.
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.
Part 1. Ecosystem:
Structure and processes relevant to environmental management.
Primary productivity, decomposition and organic matter quality.
Main biogeochemical cycles (C, N, P, Si, Fe, S) and their applications to environmental managment.
Part 2. Natural capital, goods and services of ecosystems.
The evolution of the concept of ecosystem goods and services throughout the ecological economics and key projects and initiatives: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity (TEEB), Partnership for European Environmental Research (PEER).
Classification and description of the main ecosystem services. Analysis of the ecosystem factors and processes which support the service provision. Evaluation of potential and limitations of ecosystem services in environmental management. The concept of use and not use values. Green and blue infrastructures as systems that ensure the provision of ecosystem services.
European Commission documents: recommendations and directives
Presentation and discussion of some examples of green/blue infrastructures and key regulation ecosystem services: buffer strips, wetlands, alternative crop systems.
Part 3. Management and restoration of ecosystems.
Anthropic impacts and ecosystem responses. Disturbance and trends in ecosystem features: stability, resistance, resilience, succession, regime shift.
How to identify trends: deterministic and stochastic models, mechanistic and holistic approaches. The caution principle and the adaptive approach.
Fundamental concepts of restoration ecology.
Part 4. Case studies.
The ecosystems restoration is presented through some case studies related to the research field of the teacher and to projects and applications that have been launched locally and at the regional scale.
CASE 1. Soil use and degradation. Sustainable soil management. Example and lessons from traditional agriculture: the manure value and management. Green oriented approaches in the past and in the current rural development plans: crop rotation, cover crops, greening, set-aside, management of the marginal areas. The case study will be support by a seminar of Dr. C. Gardi, editor of the book “Unsustainable soil use”.
CASE 2. Ecological restoration of ditches and channels in the farmland: methods, objectives and early results. Channels as systems for the treatment of the diffuse nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and as a support for the biodiversity conservation.
The activity is carried out in collaboration with the Consorzio di Bonifica dell’Emilia Centrale and composes of three activities.
- Introductory lecture on water purification services in natural ecosystems (teacher);
- seminars dealing with the presentation of the consortium activities (A. Ruffini) and LIFE RINASCE project for the reclamation of two types of channels/ditches (Ing. M. Monaci);
- field excursion and works in channels which are under restoration.
CASE 3. Restoration for conservation purposes of the lowland spring.
The activity is carried out in collaboration with the Corte Valle Re Natural Reserve (RE) and composes of three steps
- introductory lecture on the characteristics and ecological and economic value of lowland springs (teacher);
- seminar on the conservation goals and actions of the reserve (Dr R. Azzoni)
- filed excursion and works in the Reserve.
CASE 4. Environmental design and restoration of quarry lakes: methods, objectives and results.
The activity refers to one of the main research activities of the teacher. The activty is carried out with the support of experts. It is articulated in three steps:
- introductory lecture on the ecological characteristics, and economic value and potential uses of quarry lakes (teacher);
- seminar of a designer who will illustrate the authorization required and the environmental criteria applied to the design phase (Dr. G. Virgilli, AMBITER company);
- field excursion and works in three quarry areas with lakes of different ages.
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 lagoons.
Galassi, Ferrari, Viaroli, 2014. Introduzione all'Ecologia Applicata. Dalla teoria alla pratica della sostenibilità. CittàStudi Edizioni, Milano (Italian only).
- Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (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.
- Maes J., et al., 2012. A spatial assessment of ecosystem services in Europe: methods, case studies and policy analysis. - phase 2.
PEER Report No 4. Ispra: Partnership for European Environmental Research ( www.peer.eu).
- TEEB (2010), The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: A Synthesis of the Approach, Conclusions and Recommendations of TEEB (www.teebweb.org).
-van Andel J., Aronson J., 2006. Restoration Ecology. The New Frontier. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA, USA.
Gardi C., Dall’Olio N., Salata S., 2013. L’insostenibile consumo di suolo. Edicom Edizioni, Monfalcone (GO), 136 pp. (Italian only)
-AAVV, 2010. Linee guida per il recupero ambientale dei siti interessati dalle attività estrattive in ambito golenale di Po nel tratto che interessa le Province di Piacenza, Parma e Reggio Emilia. Regione Emilia Romagna (Italian only)
-Gaggianelli A., Ricciardelli F., Monaci M., Boz B., 2012. Linee guida per la riqualificazione ambientale dei canali di bonifica in Emilia-Romagna. Regione Emilia Romagna, Ass. Difesa del Suolo, della Costa e Bonifica (Italian only)
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)Galassi, Ferrari, Viaroli, 2014. Introduzione all'Ecologia Applicata. Dalla teoria alla pratica della sostenibilità. CittàStudi Edizioni, Milano.
2) van Andel J., Aronson J., 2006. Restoration Ecology. The New Frontier. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA, USA.
3) Provini A., Galassi S., Marchetti R., 1998. Applied ecology. CittaStudi, Milano (in Italian)
The organization of the educational activities consists of three modes with different degrees of student participation.
Mode 1 (40% of class time). Lectures with presentation and discussion of relevant environmental issues for which ecology can provide diagnostic tools and solutions.
Mode 2 (40% of class time). Presentation and discussion of case studies on ecological applications in the regional context. These activities compose of three main steps: 1) definition of the context and ecological backgrounds by the teacher; 2) case study presentation by experts running restoration projects, with focus on management issues, i.e. restoration design, cost/benefit analysis, monitoring program, etc. 3) field work in the area where the restoration program is performed with the experts' assistance . Excursions and field works are the main part of this activity.
Mode 3 (20% of the class time). Student workshop. Students are requested to identify and choose one of the general topics among those in the program of the course and develop it in a workshop self-organized and self-managed by them. Students have to submit an abstract of their oral presentation. The format is standard and the abstract is evaluated and approved by the teacher. The abstracts and the workshop program are then organized in an abstract book, available online to the students. The program is organized into sessions, each of which consists of 5 oral presentations. The presentations are made by a 10 minutes talk followed by 10 minutes discussion. Each session is coordinated by two students (chair+rapporteur). Students have to submit the presentation with power point or similar tools in 10 minutes with 10 slides; Throughout the workshop, every student is also required to ask at least 10 questions to the colleagues.
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
At the end of the course, the students are expected to be able to critically analyze the goods and services provided by the ecosystems. They are also expected to be capable of discriminating between natural and altered processes, to identify the causes of alterations and the most critical components, and to propose possible solutions.
The preparation is evaluated with two tests of the same weight: the workshop (50%) and the final exam (50%).
The final vote ranges between 0 and 30. The exam is passed with 18/30, the maximum is 30/30, excellence deserves laude
The workshop evaluation composes of 50% from the content (knowledge and ability to apply knowledge), 25% from the presentation quality (communication), and 25% from the discussion (ability to judge).
For the final exam, students select and present a topic that must specifically deal with ecological tools for solving environmental problems and supporting ecosystem services. The exam is evaluated by 50% from the content (ability to apply knowledge and technical skills), and by 50% from the discussion (communication and judgment skills). The exam outcome is communicated directly to the person concerned and, if accepted, recorded in ESSE3.
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%).