If we don’t grasp why ecosystems function, it becomes harder to determine possible reasons for when they don’t and makes it difficult to identify possible environmental threats to humans.

In this course, you will discover how organisms are linked together by complex interrelationships, how such links are studied and how the physical properties of a particular habitat interact with the organisms that inhabit it. Using case studies, you will come to learn how knowledge of ecosystems leads to an understanding of their individual importance, and how they can be preserved.

All Open University science courses presented on FutureLearn are produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education.

What topics will you cover?

  • Introduction to the concept of an ecosystem and the problems of scoping a useable definition. Applying the definition to an example of a small ecosystem.
  • Following a food chain that links a group of organisms. Exploring those links in specific examples and what these reveal. Studying examples of adaptations to particular habitats and extreme conditions, displayed by animals and plants.
  • Investigating the diversity of life within different ecosystems and the small organisms that form the base of food chains.
  • Undertaking a small project on observing and identifying organisms in a neighbourhood ecosystem and contributing to an online community.
  • Using case studies, exploring the impact that humans can have on ecosystems and whether damaging impacts can be reversed. Examples of conservation and the problem of habitat restoration, illustrated by the conservation efforts to maintain a spider population.
  • Conserving lowland gorillas, China’s Loess Plateau and the Galápagos world heritage site.
  • How the problems of the Galápagos illustrate how fragile ecosystems can become and how important it is to understand such systems if we are to maintain them in balance.

What will you achieve?

  • Identify and be able to define an ecosystem.
  • Assess and understand the different ways in which a system can be analysed.
  • Apply and use your knowledge of the key features of ecosystems to determine interrelationships between organisms in a simple ecosystem.
  • Describe adaptations shown by animals to the extreme desert and polar environments.
  • Engage with and join the iSpot online community, obtain identifications for animals, plants or fungi you have seen and consider any links between them that you could identify.
  • Discuss how small organisms in marine systems contribute to energy flow through ecosystems.
  • Explain how humans impact on three examples of fragile ecosystems.

Who is the course for?

This course is intended for those with an interest in natural history, conservation or the environment and does not require any previous experience of studying these subjects.

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This course is Online
Start Date
Nov. 2019
Part time
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Start Date
Nov. 2019
End Date
Application deadline

Nov. 2019

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