NIGK16000U Applied Ecosystem Ecology

Volume 2020/2021

MSc Programme in Biology
MSc Programme in Environmental Science
MSc Programme in Nature Management


The central idea of the course is to study the mechanisms and processes that control ecosystem functioning via interactions between organisms, the environment and human activities. Using a system ecology approach we will analyze systems from the global scale through the ecosystem to the scale of the soil microenvironment in order to understand the background of fundamental services that ecosystems provide. We will analyze the influence and impact of human activities including different land uses, pollution and climate change, as well as potential climate change mitigation strategies including bioenergy production.  Through theoretical exercises students will learn how to apply the knowledge obtained during the course, e.g. to evaluate various environmental footprints of human activities and perform sustainability assessments of climate change mitigation strategies. The course will end with a course “conference” where student will present and discuss the concepts of planetary boundaries and the sustainable use of global resources. The core elements of the course are:

  • The functioning of the Globe and the three spheres (atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere)

  • Characteristics and differences of the global cycles of major elements (C, N, P and S) and their interactions

  • The triangle of organisms, processes and the environment

  • Succession, diversity and ecosystem functioning and how this affects stability, resistance and resilience of ecosystems

  • Evaluation of impacts of human activities through qualitative and quantitative assessment of the flow of energy and matter through ecosystems
Learning Outcome

The aim of the course is to give a solid understanding of ecosystem ecology focusing on the role of living organisms for the flow of matter and energy at various scales and the interactions with human activities and climate change. After completing the course students should be able to:


  • Describe the overall global functioning of the three spheres (atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere), including the global climate system and global cycling cycling of elements
  • Discuss the role of organisms, trophic levels, and diversity for the flow of matter and energy and overall ecosystem functioning
  • Describe the interactions between land use, species composition, and ecosystem functioning
  • Explain how land-use affects the exchange of biogenic greenhouse gases between atmosphere and biosphere
  • Describe the importance of scale for ecosystem functioning from soil aggregate to global scale



  • Work quantitatively with ecosystem functioning, environmental impacts of different land-uses, and with sustainability assessments of climate change mitigation strategies
  • Analyze the diversity of the main groups of organisms and its relation to functioning of the environment
  • Analyze how different biomes have different conditions and therefore different threats to their optimal functioning



  • Formulate aims and guiding principles for the use and protection of ecosystems, their functioning and biotic composition
  • Evaluate the effect of human activities on the environments and their functions to provide services to the surroundings and to the human society
  • Analyze, put into perspective, and criticize original research papers and reports
  • Perform effective written and oral presentations of acquired knowledge and ideas

Selected scientific papers and book chapters (see Absalon). For general introduction purposes we use Chapin et al., Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology.

An introductory course in systems ecology is an advantage but not a requirement

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.
Teaching will be organized in topical modules, each subdivided into lectures, theoretical exercises, paper presentations/​discussions, field/lab demonstrations, and project work.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 30
  • Preparation
  • 100
  • Theory exercises
  • 66
  • Field Work
  • 10
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Oral feedback from teacher and peers at student paper presentations and during exercises. Organised feedback from lecturer's on choice of essay topic. Feedback from teacher and peers (class) on seminar presentation of report and poster. 



7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment
Written examination, 2 hours under invigilation
Students hand in and present one essay (group), maximum 20 pages and one poster (individual) during the course. The course is concluded with a 2 hour written examination under invigilation.

The essay and the poster, including their presentation, each contribute 25 % on the final grade and the written examination contributes 50 % on the final grade.
Exam registration requirements



All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners

Resubmission of essay and poster, followed by 30 minutes oral examination. The students draws an assignemt and has 30 minutes preparation time.

The essay and the poster must be submitted one week before the reexam.

The essay and the poster, including their presentation, each contribute 25 % on the final grade and the written examination contributes 50 % on the final grade.

Criteria for exam assesment

See learning outcome.