APPLIED ECOLOGY 2: ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND RESTORATION ECOLOGY
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, IPBES, CICES 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.
Course contents summary
The course composes of three parts.
Part 1A 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 1B 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 2 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.
PART 1. ECOSYSTEM, ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND NATURE BASED SOLUTIONS
PART 1-A. ECOSYSTEM AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES
RISE OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS vs ECOLOGY AND ITS APPLICATIONS.
ECOSYSTEM. Brief summary of current knowledge on ecosystem structure and processes. Relationships between ecosystems and biodiversity. The ecosystem as a basic unit in environmental management.
NATURE GOODS AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES. Ecosystems constitute the natural capital and provide services and benefits for human wellbeing. Ecosystem services: structure and operational scheme, classification and examples. Pivotal international projects (eg MEA, PEER, TEEB). Introduction to the economic evaluation of ecosystem services. Payment of Ecosystem Services (PES)
C, N, P BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLES AND THEIR APPLICATIONS TO ECOSYSTEM SERVICES.
SERVICES ASSOCIATED WITH THE CARBON CYCLE - Carbon sink and climate regulation. Examples. Riverine woodland. Methods for measuring the carbon stock in plants and soil. Reeds as a model wetland: CO2 and CH4 balance and evaluation of the climate regulation services.
SERVICES ASSOCIATED WITH THE NITROGEN CYCLE – Key processes: nitrogen-fixation, nitrification and denitrification. Nitrogen, agriculture and livestock. Nitrate pollution: causes, effects and possible remedies. Nitrate Directive. Nitrate removal in urban wastewater treatment plants and in alternative systems based on natural solutions: wetlands, canals and quarry lakes.
SERVICES ASSOCIATED WITH THE PHOSPHORUS CYCLE - Phosphorus as a limiting factor. Main geochemical control factors: metals, carbonates and clays. Phosphorus and eutrophication of waters. Prevention and remedies. The success of the legislation for the reduction of P in detergents.
PART 1.B. - GREEN AND BLUE FRASTRUCTURES AND NATURE BASED SOLUTIONS
Ecosystems as green (terrestrial) and aquatic (blue) “natural infrastructures”. Definitions and reference documents (e.g. green and blue infrastructures for Europe). Natural infrastructures as fundamental components for the conservation of natural capital and ecosystem services. Examples. Inland eater wetlands. Mangroves. Seagrass beds. Estuaries and river mouths. River margins and land-water interfaces
PART 2. MANAGING, REPAIRING AND REBUILDING ECOSYSTEMS TO MAINTAIN AND IMPROVE THEIR SERVICES
General considerations and development prospects for restoration ecology. Reference conditions. Analytical and integrative ecological approaches. Adaptive management. Evolution of the ecosystem and time scales of interventions and management: perturbations, resilience and shift regime. International initiatives: United Nation decade on ecological restoration (2021-2030); European Biodiversity Strategy 2030.
STUDY CASES. The study of ecosystem restoration is proposed through some case studies related to the research experience and collaborations of the teacher and to projects and applications that have been launched in the Emilia-Romagna region.
SOIL: APPLICATION OF NATURE BASED SOLUTIONS FOR A SUSTAINABLE LAND USE
The traditional agro-zootechnical system: value of manure and animal waste, crop rotation and water consumption. Current land management: European directives and standards, and nature-based solutions. Environmental management in rural development plans: support crops and green manure, management of marginal areas, set aside, cover crops, greening, nature retoration. Challenges and problems: manure and compost, methane emissions from cattle; spreading of digestates and sewage sludge and the short circuit of the hydrological cycle.
CASE 2. Management and restoration of natural and artificial channels: methods, objectives and first results. The channels are handled as systems for the treatment of the diffuse nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and as a support for the biodiversity conservation.
The activity will be carried out in collaboration with the Consorzio di Bonifica dell’Emilia Centrale (CBEC) and is organized into two activities
- introductory lectur
Galassi, Ferrari, Viaroli, 2014. Introduzione all'Ecologia Applicata. Dalla teoria alla pratica della sostenibilità. CittàStudi Edizioni, Milano (Italian only).
Additional materialavailable in the library of Bioscienze)
Palmer M. A., Zedler J.B., Falk D.A., 2016. Foundations of restoration ecology. 2nd edition. Society for Ecological restoration. Island Press, Washington DC, USA (disponibile nella Biblioteca di Bioscienze, UniPr)
Grunwald K., & Bastian O. (2015). Ecosystem servicies, Springer. Concept, methods and case studies, Springer.
A list of books, e-books, web pages will be provided at the beginning of the coursei
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.
However, how the educational activities will be carried out will depend on the evolution of the COVID19 pandemia. In the best case scenario, the course will be organized according to the above-exposed scheme. In case it is not possible to carry out lessons in attendance, lessons will be carried out in streaming mode (via Teams) with lecture registration and the release of the url to the students. Similarly, the workshop will be organised using the Teams platform.
Field work and excursions will be maintained, as these activities are carried out in the environment, where safe conditions can be guaranteed.
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).
In case of safety limitations, both workshop and exam will be carried out via web with the Teams platform