After completing the module the student is able to:
- Understand the biological origins and value of key ecosystem services.
- Understand the range of experimental approaches used to examine the role of biological processes in the provision of ecosystem functions.
- Critically evaluate research within relevant lines of environmental research.
- Carry out experiments related to biodiversity impacts on ecosystem functioning, from the design and planning of experiments to the data analysis and interpretation to scientific reporting.
- Work within small research teams where cooperation and coordination are required to ensure efficient progress and accurate results.
- Work within a large research team where experimental results of others have to be assilimated into the larger context of a larger research program.
- Design effective means of communicating research and ecological concepts in an interesting yet scientifically accurate manner.
Introduction and course set – up|
Climate change, expanding human populations and the increasing search for available land, put the natural resources of our world under high pressure. There is a dire need to develop methods to manage these resources in a sustainable manner. To do so, profound ecological knowledge on how natural resources function and respond to management is required. The aim of this course is to strengthen your expertise in plant-, microbial and landscape ecology and to show how this expertise is of vital importance to natural resource management.
The central theme of the course will be ecosystem services. Ecosystems provide many benefits either directly through material goods (e.g. timber, food or medicinal plants) or indirectly as a result of their basic functioning (e.g. carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, control of water and quality and crop pollination). The main goals of the course are to develop an understanding that many of our natural resources are biological in nature, to examine the mechanisms involved in the procurement of ecosystem services and to critically appraise the impacts of global change as well as conservation and management strategies on ecosystems and the crucial services they deliver. Special attention is paid to carbon and nutrient cycle dynamics and in the combined impacts of microbes and vegetation in the delivery of vital ecosystem services. Furthermore, the course is designed to develop skills in examining primary and secondary (review) literature, the analysis and interpretation of experimental and field data and various forms of scientific communication.
General MSc introduction. Organized by the Graduate School of Life Sciences
The first part provides and overview of biological ecosystem services and the mechanisms responsible for them. The first introductory lectures examine the global carbon and nutrient (with emphasis on nitrogen) cycles, especially regarding the interplay of microbial processes and vegetation. The following lectures examine the procurement of other biological resources, including water purification, food production, bioremediation and attenuation and resources for natural products. Each of the lectures is accompanied by background literature (2 to 3 articles) distributed via Blackboard. At the same time, the course participants run a laboratory experiment designed to examine the impact of microbial diversity on ecosystem functioning. Each student group (of 3 students) tackles a different part of the group experiment and results are exchanged at the end of the experimental work. Each student group presents their results and summarizes the experiment by writing a short research article (Nature letter format) with emphasis on data interpretation and statistics and appropriate use of literature. After submission of the manuscript, the students get feedback from the instructors as to errors and room for improvement and are then given the opportunity to revise their manuscripts based upon these comments.
The second part of the course includes a number of expert guest lectures that demonstrate the practical and applied issues related to biological natural resources, and their management and conservation. Included in this series is a one-day workshop given by the hold of the Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation (currently Jaboury Gazhoul). In addition, a series of PhD and post-doc presentations (5-6 in total) related to ecosystem services are given. Each presentation includes background literature and background to the topic of research. At the end of this series, students are assigned one of the research presentation topics and instructed to write a brief individual commentary (750 words – according to The ISME Journal guidelines for commentaries). This assignment is designed to go beyond simply summarizing research, with emphasis on forming and defending an opinion. After grading, feedback is available regarding the strong and weak points of the commentaries.
For the third part of the course, student groups (3 students per group – different groups than during the first part of the course) choose a final research project from a list of topics related to the content of the lectures. It is also possible for students to develop their own topic in discussion with the course organizers. The final assignment is to produce an educational movie for your peers (approx.. 10 min) concerning specific research issues related to the chosen topic, as well as a written summary. Each student group is assigned an advisor/mentor to help guide the development of the film project. Each group meets regularly with the group advisor to discuss the project plan and progress. During the final day of the course, the movies of all the groups are presented to the class. Each movie is first introduced by the student group in question, and the film presentation is followed up by a question and answer session as well as a class evaluation of the strong and weaker points of the film. Project grades are determined by the joint scoring of all of the project mentors.
Examination and grading
The final grade is made up of three parts as follows:
Microbial diversity experiment (35%)
Individual commentary report (20%)
Research project with movie & summary report (45%)
There is no final examination! Attendance to lectures, workshop and laboratory activities is obliged.
We will provide all necessary material on blackboard.
September - November 2016. This course will be given in time-slot A+D.
Prof. George Kowalchuk (coordinator); Padualaan 8, Kruyt-building, room N304; e-mail G.A.Kowalchuk@uu.nl; tel 030-2532837
Alternative contact person Marijke van Kuijk Padualaan 8, Kruyt-building, room N305; e-mail M.vanKuijk@uu.nl tel 030-2536846
Registration for the course can be done by sending an e-mail to the coordinator Prof. George Kowalchuk (G.A.Kowalchuk@uu.nl) and provide the following information:
1) course name; 2) your name; 3) your student number; 4) the MSc programme in which you participate.