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Free online course

Introduction to Ecosystems

Gain an understanding of the natural world, how the web of life works, with illustrations from around the world.

Free:

  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, starting from when you join
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn
  • Access to course tests
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Introduction to Ecosystems

Why join the course?

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 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.

Find out more in David Robinson’s post for the FutureLearn blog: “Why learn about ecosystems?

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsThis course examines the intricate and critically important relationships between living organisms and the environment under the expert guidance of Open University senior lecturer Dr. David Robinson. The familiar woodland is an ideal place to begin to understand ecosystems in more depth. The journey begins by examining some key definitions of what we mean by an ecosystem as well as introducing some essential skills needed in field research and applying this science to case studies by the likes of world renowned broadcaster David Attenborough. And in forests like this one, where food sources are often very widely disbursed, the ability to travel fast and far but with very little effort is a very valuable ability indeed.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds Rich in video, high quality audio, and text, tailored to the needs of people new to the subject, this six week course steers towards the fundamental issue of the impact of human beings on our natural world. The vital question we have to ask is, can this destructive process be reversed? Finishing the course will leave you with insights into the rich diversity of organisms across the world and a fresh perspective on the vital role that humans play in these fundamental networks of life. Understanding ecosystems transforms our view of the natural world.

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.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

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 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.

Who will you learn with?

David Robinson

I am a zoologist specialising in acoustic behaviour and evolutionary biology, now researching insect ecology and ultrasonic communication.

Who developed the course?

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript £39.00

Statement of Participation £19.00

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Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.