NIGK13008U Ecology and Ecosystems Science in relation to Environmental Economics

Volume 2017/2018

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 to various aspects of ecosystem structure, 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, plant succession and disturbances.

Impacts of a large 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 etc.); water balances and water quality (evapotranspiration, discharge to ground water and surface water bodies, water quality); biodiversity (habitats and organisms). 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, carbon neutrality and payback time); waste management, recycling and phytoremediation (sludge, waste water, bioashes from combustion, e-waste).

The topics are related to contextual policies, such as the UN Climate Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the EU Water Framework Directive, the EU Habitat Directive, the Ramsar Convention, the EU Renewable Energy Directive, the EU Waste Directive, and the Danish bioash legislation.

Learning Outcome

The aim is to give the student an in-depth understanding of the ecology of various land uses, such as forestry and cropland and grassland, the interactions among them at the landscape level and the impact of the land management on various ecosystem functions and services to society. The student should understand the ecosystem processes and the reasoning behind the use of various management tools in different ecosystems according to specific management goals. Temperate ecosystems will be in focus, but the principles will be general and relevant for other biomes. Global environmental challenges and perspectives will also be addressed and project work allows the students to apply the general knowledge to cases in any part of the world. Economist guest teachers will introduce the use of ecological knowledge in economic valuation studies and policy design. The course finally facilitates students’ sound use of ecological assumptions and models in environmental and natural resource economics.

After completing the course, 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 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 management and activities, including climate change.
  • Describe principles of sustainable management.
  • Explain the concept of ecosystem services.



  • Analyse and assess how structures, functions and processes of ecosystems are influenced by natural and human-induced environmental changes in specific geographical contexts.
  • Critically read, understand and apply scientific literature on quantitative and qualitative impacts of natural and human-induced environmental changes on ecosystems.



  • Evaluate possibilities, limitations and tradeoffs in the management of ecosystems when aiming to achieve certain ecosystem services, conserve natural resources, alleviate pollution, or adapt to climate change.
  • Suggest alternative solutions to specific sets of environmental challenges, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of various solutions.
  • Collaborate effectively in multidisciplinary and multicultural groups within a group project.
  • Effectively communicate environmental cases and discuss solutions to 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.
The teaching includes lessons and interactive class room discussions, theoretical and practical exercises, excursions and writing of mandatory reports.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Colloquia
  • 16
  • Exam
  • 1
  • Excursions
  • 26
  • Guidance
  • 5
  • Lectures
  • 62
  • Practical exercises
  • 5
  • Preparation
  • 120
  • Project work
  • 120
  • Theory exercises
  • 57
  • Total
  • 412
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 25 min.
The student will draw 1) a question related to the curriculum and 2) one of the four submitted project reports. The report is not graded but the theme of the report forms the basis of the second half of the oral exam. The student will have 25 min preparation time after drawing the question and report.
Exam registration requirements

Four project reports passed

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

Four project reports passed no later than two weeks before the re-examination.

Re-examination is identical to the ordinary examination form.

Criteria for exam assesment

See learning outcome