Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course is offered to students of the Master degree and aims to transfer them cultural and operational tools for understanding the basics of the functioning of ecosystems (energy and biogeochemical aspects), the structuring role of micro and macro-organisms and their relations in the functioning of ecosystems and impacts of human activities on biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems.
Five main training objectives are proposed.
1. Understand the basics of ecosystem functioning; 2. Know how to analyze the functional role of micro and macroorganisms; 3. Interpret the importance of multiple interactions between species; 4. Interpret interactions and feedback at community level; 5. Connect dynamically aspects of biodiversity, integrity and ecosystem functioning.
Course contents summary
The course aims to explore quantitatively the relationships between biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems. The aim of the course is to understand the basics of ecosystem functioning, the mechanisms that regulate ecosystem services and the effects of human activities and the loss of biodiversity on functioning and services.
The course intends to link traditional biology and biogeochemical biology studies starting from the analysis of a number of case studies where the role of individual species has been shown to be central in regulating material and energy flows in whole ecosystems. Understanding the roles of individual species in the functioning of ecosystems is essential to capturing much more complex aspects related to concepts such as "diversity and functioning," which include multiple relationships and feedback between organisms and the physical environment. If a species is able to alter the transfer of matter and energy to an entire ecosystem, it is intuitive to think that all species ("biodiversity") are able to influence the biogeochemistry of an ecosystem.
The course aims to analyze the importance of organisms in the functioning of ecosystems and to demonstrate how the loss (or intake) of some species is capable of altering, sometimes profoundly, the interactions between terrestrial, aquatic systems and the atmosphere or aspects such as long-term soil fertility, primary production, or ability to metabolize organic matter.
The course is organized in 5 modules, consisting of frontal lessons (50h, 7 CFUs) and practical exercises (25h, 2 CFUs). Module 1. (15h) Basics of ecosystem functioning; Module 2. (15h) Functional groups of micro and macroorganisms; Module 3. (15h) Multiple species interactions; Module 4. (15h) Community-level interactions; Module 5. (15h) Biodiversity, integrity and functioning of ecosystems.
Module 1. (15h) Basics of the functioning of ecosystems
1.1 Biological diversity and cycles of matter in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
1.2.Diversity and functioning in natural and agricultural systems
1.3. Biodiversity and interactions with biogeochemical cycles, with benthonic and pelagic productivity and mineralization of detritus
Module 2. (15h) Functional groups of micro and macroorganisms
2.1. Functional microorganisms in soil and sediments
2.2 Adaptive strategies and ecological features in macrophytes: their role in the functioning of aquatic ecosystems
2.3. From species to communities: the importance of functional groups
Module 3. (15h) Multiple species interactions
3.1. Functional Groups in Macrovertebrate
3.2. Mutualism and community structure between macrophytes, meio and macrofauna and bacteria
3.3. The role of macrofauna in mediating the transfer of nutrients between sediments and plants
Module 4. (15h) Community-level interactions
4.2.Regundity in ecosystems
4.3. How many species are used to make an ecosystem work?
4.4. The role of competition, dispersal and modification of the habitat
Module 5. (15h) Biodiversity, integrity and functioning of ecosystems
5.1. Biodiversity and the balance of nature
5.2. Biodiversity and functioning of lottery, lentic and marine ecosystems
5.3. Ecosystem stability, competition and cyclization of nutrients
The reference text for the course is "Biodiversity and ecosystem function", Schulze, E.D. and H.A. Mooney, eds. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012. From the text, the lecturer will make available slides and slides in electronic format at each lesson. Other materials will also be provided by international scientific literature, which will support lessons and performances.
Lawton, J.H. "What do species do in ecosystems?" Oikos (1994): 367-374.
Jones, C. G., J.H. Lawton, and M.Shachak. "Organisms as ecosystem engineers." Ecosystem management. Springer New York, 1994. 130-147.
Levi, P.S., et al. "Biogeochemical transformation of a nutrient subsidy: salmon, streams, and nitrification." Biogeochemistry 113.1-3 (2013): 643-655.
Norkko, J., et al. "A welcome can of worms? Hypoxia mitigation by an invasive species." Global Change Biology 18.2 (2012): 422-434.
Herren, C.M., et al. "Positive feedback between chironomids and algae creates net mutualism between benthic primary consumers and producers." Ecology 98.2 (2017): 447-455.
Tilman, D., Forest I., and J.M. Cowles. "Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning." Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 45 (2014).
The organization of the didactics provides a scheme that includes for each module one or more frontal lessons in which the theoretical aspects of the module are introduced, the student-teacher interactive analysis of one or more study cases from international literature and a practical exercise.
Assessment methods and criteria
Learning the contents of the course will be verified by a written exam; the frequency of the lessons is strongly suggested to address the final exam; Participation in the exercises will also compete with 20% of the vote. The final vote is out of thirty; the minimum vote is 18, the maximum of 30, and any praise is given only to the students who are interactive in the lessons during the course.