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Online course

Introduction to Ecosystems

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


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • 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.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

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?

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning, with a mission is to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.