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Ecology: from cells to Gaia (Coursera)

This course presents the principles of evolution and ecology for citizens and students interested in studying biology and environmental sciences. It discusses major ideas and results. Recent advances have energised these fields with evidence that has implications beyond their boundaries: ideas, mechanisms, and processes that should form part of the toolkit of all biologists and educated citizens.

Major topics covered by the course include fundamental principles of ecology, how organisms interact with each other and their environment, evolutionary processes, population dynamics, communities, energy flow and ecosystems, human influences on ecosystems, and the integration and scaling of ecological processes through systems ecology.

This course will also review major ecological concepts, identify the techniques used by ecologists, provide an overview of local and global environmental issues, and examine individual, group and governmental activities important for protecting natural ecosystems. The course has been designed to provide information, to direct the student toward pertinent literature, to identify problems and issues, to utilise research methodology for the study of ecology and evolution, and to consider appropriate solutions and analytical techniques.

Needed Learner Background: general biology and a good understanding of English.

This course has the following expectations and results:

1) covers the theoretical and practical issues involved in ecology and evolution,

2) conducting surveys and inventories in ecology,

3) analyzing the information gathered,

4) and applying their analysis to ecological and conservation problems.

Who is this class for: – General public – Lower-intermediate division undergraduate – Upper division undergraduate – Professional or Graduate

Syllabus

WEEK 1

Welcome to the Course

Module 1

In this module, after an introduction about the meaning and a brief history of Ecology, we will see how plant and animal adapt and interact with their environment and how these interactions changes life histories and populations. Then we will focus on interspecific competition and we will understand that the avoidance of competition is a more common pattern in ecology than pure competition.

Graded: Quiz – Module 1

WEEK 2

Module 2

In this module, we will talk about agonistic and foraging interactions between species (such as predation, herbivory and parasitism) and mutualistic interactions (such as symbiosis, commensalism, endosymbiosis, etc.). Then we will see how these interactions influence the evolutionary ecology of species and their diversity. In the last lesson of this module we will analyse the energy flux and biogeochemical cycles that keep alive Earth’s ecosystems and the whole biosphere (e.g. Gaia).

Graded: Quiz – Module 2

WEEK 3

Module 3

In this module, we will discuss some fundamental ecological processes, such as those must be present in any Gaian planet. We will consider the Gaian effects of parasites and predators, biodiversity and hypercycles and we will see how these processes regulates our planet. Finally, we will consider the global ecological role of biomass, photosynthesis and carbon sequestration.

Graded: Quiz – Module 3

WEEK 4

Module 4

In this final module, we will explore the possibility of a new ecology by exploring the concept of sustainability, evaluating the human impacts on ecosystems and providing some solutions for nature conservation. Finally, we will see how to organise a citizen science event, called Bio-blitz, which can improve the scientific knowledge of our planet and, at the same time, rise the ecological awareness of citizens.

Graded: Quiz – Module 4

WEEK 5

Final module

This module allows you to learn how to organise a Bio-blitz – an intensive biological investigation, which aims to record all the species living within a designated area, comprising groups of specialists supported by non-experts.

Graded: Final task: organise a Bio-Blitz

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