Module Details

The information contained in this module specification was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change, either during the session because of unforeseen circumstances, or following review of the module at the end of the session. Queries about the module should be directed to the member of staff with responsibility for the module.
Code ENVS122
Coordinator Dr JA Green
Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences
Year CATS Level Semester CATS Value
Session 2013-14 Level One Second Semester 15


This module introduces the range of diversity of marine ecosystems using ten example environments from around the world. Each week a new system will be covered, with the main organisms, key processes and human threats to the system described and explored. Central to this module are interactive discussion sessions that will build an understanding of how marine ecosystems are expected to respond to the human-induced changes of the 21st Century.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this module, students will acquire knowledge and understanding of:

  • Representative key ecosystems found in the marine environment, ranging from rocky shores to the Antarctic
  • Marine organisms that live in these ecosystems
  • Fundamental ecological principles, transferable to later marine and non-marine modules
  • The threats that humans may pose to marine ecosystems
  • How humans assess and may mitigate detrimental impacts
  • The importance of critical reading of scientific literature to their future studies



Knowledge and understanding of processes in marine ecosystems will develop over the weeks. The final order of delivery may be different to that presented below.

Week 1 

Rocky intertidal regions (oil pollution)

  1. An indication of what lives on the rocky shore, emphasising diversity.
  2. An introduction to tides and how the changing environment affect water patterns and the distribution of organisms on the rocky shore.
  3. A discussion of how how oil pollution affects this ecosystem.
Week 2 

Pelagic regions (global climate change)

  1. An introduction to the plankton that live in the pelagic realm.
  2. An indication of how biotic and abiotic factors affect plankton production on local and global scales.
  3. A discussion of how global warming will influence pelagic ecosystems and how humans are attempting to solve this problem.
Week 3 

Salt marshes (sea level rise)

  1. An indication of what lives in salt marshes and the physiological constraints affecting them.
  2. An indication of how zonation is expressed in salt marshes and an exploration of sea level rise due to global warming.
  3. A discussion of how the impact of sea-level rise on salt marshes and management strategies associated with this.
Week 4 

Up-welling regions (fisheries)

  1. An indication of the key players (organisms) in one economically important up-welling region.
  2. An examination of how fishing impact affects fish stocks.
  3. A discussion of how humans and natural forces influence pleagic up-welling ecosystems.
Week 5 

Coral reefs (UV bleaching & ocean acidification)

  1. An indication of what lives in coral reefs, focusing primarily on coral organisms.
  2. An examination of how global warming could destroy coral reefs.
  3. A discussion of the influence of global warming and increased carbon dioxide levels on coral reefs; which is more dangerous?
Week 6 

A mid-term examination (worth 45% of total marks for the module) will be held at the end of Week 6.

Week 7 

Polar regions (whaling)

  1. An indication of the composition and structure of the Antarctic pelagic food web.
  2. An examination of food web dynamics, using the Antartic food web as an example.
  3. A discussion of whether we should eat krill or whales, from a bioenergetic perspective.
Week 8 

Deep Sea (mining & dumping)

  1. An indication of what lives in the deep ocean and the adaptations that make this possible.
  2. A contrast between the hydrothermal vent communities and the biota of surrounding abyssal plains.
  3. A discussion of how mining and dumping might affect deep ocean communities.
Week 9 

Mangroves (habitat loss)

  1. An indication of the evolution and composition of mangrove communities.
  2. An examination of mangroves in the context of ecosystem function.
  3. A discussion of habitat loss due to human actions in mangrove communities and the implications of this.
Week 10 

Shelf Seas (trawling)

  1. An introduction to shelf sea communities focussing on the diversity of the benthos and epibenthos.
  2. An examination of food web dynamics in shelf seas, their importance in fisheries and the role of protected areas.
  3. A discussion of the effects of destructive fishing practices and whether protected areas work or not.
Week 11 

Shallow water subtidal communities (top predator harvesting)

  1. An introduction to plant-dominated subtidal communities such as sea grasses and kelp forests.
  2. An introduction to the keystone species concept using kelp forests as an example.
  3. A discussion of how human impacts can have cascading effects in marine systems.
Week 12 

Left free for fieldcourses and reflection.

Teaching and Learning Strategies

This module is composed of ten one-week segments. Each segment is a trilogy of sessions, examining a unique marine ecosystem. The first session of each trilogy is lecture outlining the key players (organisms) in the ecosystem; the second will be a lecture examining processes in the system.

The final instalment of each trillogy examines a particular aspect of how humans have had an impact on that environment. It will take the form of a seminar comprising lecture material and an interactive discussion which follows up on directed reading. These sessions allow students to self-assess their understanding of the module and formative feedback will be given.

Suitable lecture handouts and resources will be made available through VITAL. Students will also be guided to sections of specific textbooks and relevant reviews and other source literature.

Teaching Schedule

  Lectures Seminars Tutorials Lab Practicals Fieldwork Placement Other TOTAL
Study Hours 20
20x 1-hour lectures
10x 2-hour seminars
Mid-term examination
Timetable (if known) 2 per week, Monday and Wednesday ideally
1 per week, Friday ideally
Private Study 109


EXAM Duration Timing
% of
Penalty for late
Final examination. Three sectoins worth 25%, 20% and 10% of final mark respectively. (1) Multiple-Choice Questions (2) Short-Answer Questions (3) Synthetic (whole module) Question  2 hours  55  Yes - August/September  n/a   
CONTINUOUS Duration Timing
% of
Penalty for late
Mid-term examination. Two sections worth 25% and 20% of final mark respectively. (1) Multiple-Choice Questions (2) Short-Answer Questions  1 hour  45  Yes. See notes.   n/a  Candidates failing the mid-term examination will have an opportunity to retake it within Semester 2, with a mark capped at 40%.  

Recommended Texts

Key Text:

Biological Oceanography: An Introduction by Lalli & Parsons, Butterworth-Heinemann (ISBN 0-7506-3384-0)

(Available as an e-book through the library website)

Recommended Texts:

Marine Ecology: Processes, Systems and Impacts by Kaiser et al, Oxford (ISBN 978-0-19-924975-6)

Marine Biology: An Ecological Approach by Nybakken & Bertness, Pearson (ISBN 0-321-30669-4)

Introduction to Marine Biology by Karleskint, Turner & Small, Brooks/Cole (ISBN 978-1-439-04555-8)