An understanding of the ecological principles which underpin both natural and managed ecosystems is vital for a full understanding of the countryside as a recreational and teaching resource. Awareness of the potential impact of outdoor recreational and educational activities is also important for those of you who work in the countryside. This Learning Path provides an understanding of the principles of ecosystem ecology, and explores the systems and resources, including renewable energy resources, of planet earth.
Courses in this Learning Path
Introduction to Ecology
The free online course in Introduction to Ecology provides detailed information about the different types of ecosystems, terrestrial and aquatic biomes, and the effects of climate change on biodiversity.
The course first introduces you to the scope of ecology and biogeography with a focus on the distribution of plant and animal species and their impact on the terrestrial environment. You will learn how to differentiate between ecological patterns and processes at different scales and levels of biological organisation (population, community and ecosystem). Next, you will learn to identify and recognize the distinguishing characteristics of terrestrial and aquatic biomes. You will gain an understanding of what controls animal and plant distribution, abundance and biodiversity. You will learn how plants and animals absorb energy and nutrients from the ecosystem around them as well as how species interact with each other. You will learn about the biology of various habitats from marine and freshwater to terrestrial habitats and the soil. Finally, you are introduced to climate and the effects of global climate change where you will learn about the interaction between humans, animals and the environment with specific reference to the effects of modern technological advances. You will gain an understanding of the role ecology plays in conservation, wetland and natural resource management, forestry, agriculture and fisheries, as well as the climatological challenges faced by society.
The course will be ideal for professionals working in the area of biology, ecology or environmental science, for students who wish to pursue a career in the sciences, or for those who simply want to learn more about building a sustainable existence on this planet. This course will also be of great interest to anyone who would like to learn more about ecological diversity and the distribution of organisms in the global ecosystem around them or those who are concerned about their impact on the environment.
2-3 Hours50 Points
Ecology Studies - Population and Community Ecology
The free online course in Ecology Studies – Population and Community Ecology introduces you to patterns of population distribution, population growth and species relationships and behaviours.
You will learn about species populations, how life patterns evolve through natural selection, and how species behaviours are influenced by the environment. The course begins by introducing you to the tools that ecologists use to measure the characteristics of populations such as size, density, dispersion pattern and age structure. You will also learn how life tables are used to calculate population life expectancy. You will learn to identify the environmental limits to population growth, how populations with unlimited resources grow exponentially and, when resources become limited why populations then follow a logistic growth curve. You will gain an understanding of population dynamics and regulation based on density-dependent and density-independent factors and learn how the age structure of a population allows us to predict population growth. You will also learn about the characteristics used to categorize species. Finally, you are introduced to community ecology where you will learn the features of community structure and keystone species, and how some species can form symbiotic relationships within an ecological community. You will be introduced to behavioural biology and learn about behaviours such as imprinting and habituation, conditioning, and cognitive learning and methods of communication.
The course will be of great interest to professionals working in the areas of ecology or environmental science, and who would like to learn more about the social and environmental consequences of population growth, and the different characteristics of species behaviour.
2-3 Hours50 Points
Ecology Studies - Ecosystem Ecology
The free online course Ecology Studies – Ecosystem Ecology provides detailed information on the modelling of ecosystems, energy transfer and biogeochemical cycles.
The course begins by introducing you to the three broad categories of ecosystems based on their general environment: freshwater, ocean water, and terrestrial ecosystems. You will learn more about the resources within these ecosystems which organisms compete for such as organic material, sunlight, and mineral nutrients. You will learn to identify the various critical factors influencing community dynamics such as the components of its physical and geographic environment. The course then introduces you to how organisms acquire energy and how that energy is passed from one organism to another through food webs and their constituent food chains. You will gain an understanding of the different trophic levels, such as producers, consumers and decomposers, and how energy transfers affect ecosystem structures and dynamics. You will also learn about how the structure of ecosystems can be visualized and modelled with ecological pyramids to show the relative amounts of various parameters (such as number of organisms, energy, and biomass) across trophic levels. Finally, you will be introduced to the biogeochemical cycle, which is the process of recycling inorganic matter between living organisms and their environment. The six most common elements associated with organic molecules are covered explaining how mineral nutrients are cycled from one living organism to another, and between the biotic and abiotic world. You will also gain an understanding of how human activities have impacted these biogeochemical cycles and the potential consequences for society.
The course will be ideal for students or professionals who want to develop a career in ecosystem research or for those who simply want to learn more about ecosystem structures, how energy is transferred between trophic levels, and how human activities have caused major disturbances to these cycles. This course will be of great interest to anyone who would like to learn more about ecosystem types and categories, the transfer of energy between trophic levels, through food webs and food chains, and how mineral nutrients are cycled through ecosystems.
2-3 Hours50 Points
Ecology Studies - Conservation Biology and Biodiversity
The free online course Ecology Studies – Conservation Biology and Biodiversity provides detailed information on the current biodiversity crisis, the importance of biodiversity to human life and the use of conservation preserves and legislative frameworks for biodiversity protection.
The course begins by introducing you to biodiversity and how it exists at multiple levels of organization and is measured in different ways. These measurements include numbers of species, genetic diversity, chemical diversity, and ecosystem diversity. The five mass extinctions of prehistory are explained along with the most recent extinctions recorded in written history and how they are the basis for one method of estimating contemporary extinction rates. Next, you will learn how humans use many compounds as medicines that were first discovered or derived from living organisms. You will learn how the loss of biodiversity threatens ecosystem services that support human agriculture such as: pollination, nutrient cycling, pest control, and soil development and maintenance. You will also learn about the core threats to biodiversity including human population growth and unsustainable resource use, and how habitat loss occurs through deforestation, damming of rivers, and other human activities. Finally, you are introduced to the methods of biodiversity conservation, such as the optimal design of preserves and the limitations imposed by political and economic forces. You will also gain an understanding of how legislation within individual countries protects species and how agreements on global warming have had limited success.
The course will be of great interest to students or professionals who want to develop a career in various aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem conservation or for those who simply want to learn more about the biodiversity crisis, how to preserve and conserve current biodiversity levels and how human activities are the core threat to the planet's ecosystems.
2-3 Hours50 Points
Introduction to Environmental Sustainability
Environmental sustainability involves individuals, communities and countries acting to protect the natural world, so that the capability of the environment to support human life is preserved for future generations. It is becoming an increasingly important subject as people are realising the full impact that businesses and individuals can have on the environment.
In this free online course you will be introduced to environmental sustainability and its importance, the sustainability of energy resources such as wind and solar power compared with oil and gas resources, the adverse impacts individuals, communities and businesses can have on the environment, how the global transport of food and goods affects the environment, how communities can become more sustainable by making simple yet effective decisions, and how globalisation in industry and business can affect the environment at both regional and national levels.
This free online course will be of great interest to professionals in the areas of ecology studies, environmental organisations, education, local and national governments, business and finance who want to learn more about the importance of environmental sustainability. It will also be of great interest to all students who want to learn how they as individuals can make the right decisions to protect the environment.
2-3 Hours50 Points
Exploring Planet Earth - Its Systems and Resources
Planet Earth is unique in the Solar System as it has just the right systems and resources to give rise to life.
This free online course will review the systems and resources found on Earth such as the flow of energy around the planet, the cycling of matter, the geology of the planet, the Earth's atmosphere and biosphere, groundwater and surface water, and mineral, soil and biological resources. The course reviews the impact humans are having on these systems and resources and will look at air, soil and water pollutants, and how humans manage the land.
This course will be of great interest to professionals working in areas related to the environmental sciences or earth sciences, to all teachers of geography and science, and to students who are thinking of a career in the environmental sciences or earth sciences. It should also be of interest to anyone who simply wants to understand better our physical place in the universe which is constantly evolving around us.
2-3 Hours50 Points
Renewable Energy Sources
This free online course is intended to introduce students to the whole area of energy sustainability, climate change and renewable energy technologies. Many greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, occur naturally. However, during the past two centuries, human activities have also added significantly to the level of these naturally occurring gases. In particular, large amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane are produced by the use of non-renewable energy sources such as oil, natural gas and coal. For a sustainable future these fossil fuels will have to be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and biomass fuels.
In this online course students will learn the connection between energy use and sustainability, how current energy use is contributing to global climate change, the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy sources, how to identify and distinguish between different forms of renewable energy, and understand the advantages and disadvantages of different renewable energy sources.
The course will be of great interest to teachers and students who want to learn more about energy use and how renewable sources of energy will be of vital importance for a sustainable future.4-5 Hours50 Points