NIGK13008U Ecology and Ecosystems Science in relation to Environmental Economics

Volume 2024/2025

MSc Programme in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics


Knowledge about ecosystems ecology is essential for evaluations and analyses within the field of environmental and natural resource economics. Through lessons, case studies and excursions the student will be introduced  ecosystem structures, functioning and processes in different terrestrial ecosystems (forest, agriculture, grassland etc.) that are of special importance to the practical application of economic theories, methods and instruments taught in subsequent economics courses in the M.Sc. in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics.

Topics include:

Ecosystems ecology: the ecosystem concept; climate and soil as key controlling factors of ecosystem processes; biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients; the hydrological cycle; biodiversity, ecological plant succession and disturbances.

Impacts of a range of human activities on ecosystems and their services: climate change mitigation (carbon sequestration, turnover of organic material, greenhouse gas balances and emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases etc.); nutrient balances and soil fertility (fertilization, eutrophication, acidification, etc.); water availlability and quality (energy and water balance linkage, evapotranspiration, leaching to ground water and surface water bodies,etc.); biodiversity (habitats, organisms, population dynamics, etc.). Human activities include land management strategies in different sectors (forestry, agriculture etc.), including climate change adaptation; land-use changes (afforestation and deforestation, conversion to perennial crops in agriculture); bioenergy feedstock production (residues from forestry and agriculture, energy crops and plantations) and use (energy systems, greeenhouse gas emission savings, carbon neutrality and payback time); waste management (sludge, waste water, bioashes from combustion, e-waste) and recycling and phytoremediation.

Approaches to study ecological impacts: field experiments, monitoring, computer modelling, system analysis, including aspects of life-cycle assessment and footprints.

Policy: The topics are related to contextual policies, such as the UN Climate Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, the EU Water Framework Directive, the EU Habitat Directive, the Ramsar Convention, the EU Renewable Energy Directive, the EU Waste Directive, the Danish bioash legislation, and the Danish Industry Agreement on Sustainable Wood Chips and Wood Pellets.

Economics: Economist guest teachers will introduce the use of ecological knowledge in economic valuation studies and policy design.

The course focus on temperate ecosystems, but the general ecosystem processes will be relevant for other biomes, and project work will allow the students to apply their general knowledge to cases in any parts of the world.

Learning Outcome

The aim is to give the student an in-depth understanding of the ecology of various land uses, such as forestry, agriculture and grassland, and the impact of the land management on various ecosystem functions and services to society.

After completing the course, the intended learning outcomes are that the student will be able to:


  • Describe fundamental structures, functions and processes of ecosystems, e.g. biogeochemical cycles, soil processes, hydrological cycles, population dynamics, succession, and ecological disturbance.
  • Explain how ecosystem structures, functions and processes and biological diversity are controlled by factors such as climate, parent material, topography and potential biota, and how they are affected by human activities, including climate change, air pollution, forest and agricultural management and waste handling.
  • Explain the concept of ecosystem services.
  • Explain major global environmental challenges and perspectives.



  • Analyse and assess how natural disturbances and human activities affect structures, functions and processes of ecosystems in specific geographical locations.
  • Analyse and assess how ecosystem processes can be used in the design of management tools to achieve specific management objectives.


  • Evaluate possibilities, limitations and tradeoffs in the management of ecosystems when aiming to achieve certain ecosystem services, conserve natural resources, alleviate pollution, or mitigate or adapt to climate change.
  • Suggest alternative solutions to specific sets of environmental challenges, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of various solutions.
  • Critically read, understand and apply literature from natural sciences to assess quantitative and qualitative changes to ecosystems due to natural disturbances and human activities, and sound use in environmental and natural resource economics.
  • Collaborate effectively in multidisciplinary and multicultural groups within a group project.
  • Effectively communicate environmental case studies and discuss challenges and solutions to land management and climate change-related problems in reports and oral presentations.
  • Chapin, F.S., Matson, P.A., Vitousek, P.: Principles of terrestrial ecosystem ecology, 2nd edition, Springer, 2012, 529pp.
  • A number of relevant scientific papers and reports.
Interest in environmental and natural resource science and management and its application in environment and natural resource economics.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.
The teaching includes lectures, interactive class room discussions, theoretical and practical exercises, excursions, writing of mandatory reports, oral presentations.and peer feedback.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 66
  • Preparation
  • 236
  • Exercises
  • 78
  • Excursions
  • 26
  • Guidance
  • 6
  • Total
  • 412
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 25 min.
Type of assessment details
The student will draw 1) a question related to the curriculum and 2) one of three submitted project reports. The reports are not graded but the theme of the report forms the basis for half of the oral exam. The student will have 25 min preparation time after drawing the question and report.
Exam registration requirements

Three project reports and one report made in class should be passed

All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship

Re-examination is identical to the ordinary examination form.

The student must pass the four reports no later than three weeks before the re-examination.


Criteria for exam assesment

Intended learning outcomes