Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course is offered to students of the 2nd year of the second 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.
basic knowledge from the undergraduate program
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.
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.
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)
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.
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).