Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Threats to Natural Ecosystems
Academic Year
Semester 2
External Examiners
  • Dr Anita Diaz (Senior Lecturer - Bournemouth University)
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminar 1 x 4 Hour Seminar
Lecture 20 x 1 Hour Lectures
Seminar 2 x 2 Hour Seminars


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Individual report.  20%
Semester Assessment Group project  related to science communications.  20%
Semester Exam 2 Hours   60%
Supplementary Assessment Students must take elements of assessment equivalent to those that led to failure of the module.  40%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   Students must take elements of assessment equivalent to those that led to failure of the module.  60%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Synthesize current and future threats to ecosystems.

2. Describe the impacts of these threats on the ecology and physiology of a range of organisms, including implications for community dynamics and ecosystem functioning.

3. Discuss interaction between natural and anthropogenic processes at local and global scales.

4. Describe and critically appraise techniques to mitigate or adapt to anthropogenic threats.

5. Demonstrate effective scientific communication.

Brief description

The aim of this module is to introduce students to the main current and future anthropogenic threats to natural systems and mankind. The module will cover a variety of anthropogenic threats including climate change, pollution and over-exploitation of resources. Examples will be drawn from a range of ecosystems, including marine, freshwater and terrestrial. Methods of threat mitigation and adaptive management will be discussed. Finally, the module will explore general misconceptions of science and investigate ways to better communicate scientific knowledge to end-users.


The module introduces the main threats affecting ecosystems, including complications in the detection, attribution and management of these threats particularly where multiple stresses lead to additive and non-linear impacts. Lectures then focus on specific examples including climate change and ocean acidification, persistent organic pollutants (dioxins, pesticides, endocrine disrupting compounds & marine plastics), heavy metal pollutants, and overexploitation of natural resources (e.g. water). Threats that have recently emerging as primary drivers of biological change are investigated. For each threat, their physical, chemical and/or historical context are outlined before exploring the impacts on organismal biology and ecology, as well as consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem function. Examples use a range of natural habitats with some emphasis on aquatic systems where anthropogenic impacts have been most acute. Attention is given to the combined impact of multiple stresses and the resulting complications for accurate predictions of species and ecosystem responses. The difficulties in attributing observed change to specific stressors are discussed then mitigation and adaptation measures explored.

The first practical session involves a pollution data handling and risk assessment exercise. The second involves group working on science communication topics and consideration of different communication strategies.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Students are required to analyse and interpret data collected during practical 1.
Communication Effective written communication will be developed and assessed in examinations and practical reports.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will be expected to use research materials, manage time and meet deadlines. The directed study elements provide opportunity for students to explore their own learning styles and identify their needs and barriers to learning. Students will be able to review and monitor their progress through feedback and plan for improvement of personal performance.
Information Technology The students will be required to access online databases such as ISI Web of Knowledge and Google Scholar for primary literature. They will be expected to use spreadsheets to collate data during practical 1. Students will be able to use a variety of technology driven media through a presentation assessment.
Personal Development and Career planning Students will develop transferable skills that are applicable to a range of career options.
Problem solving The students will discriminate between the interacting aspects of environmental change. Through presentations and practicals they will be expected to identify factors responsible for change and use creative thinking to communicate their findings to a broader audience.
Research skills Students will research topics beyond the depth and scope of the lecture material using independent study, during the write up and presentation of practical assessments. Information from a variety of sources will be the object of critical appraisal and comment.
Subject Specific Skills This module will provide students with knowledge of the main threats affecting natural systems and methods to enable mitigation and adaptation. This information is vital for any student wishing to seek a career within the environmental sciences. Students will also gain practical experience in communicating clearly and effectively complicated scientific information.
Team work Students will work in small groups during practicals and one coursework assignment. They will need to discuss their investigations within the group and work effectively to complete the tasks and assessments assigned.


This module is at CQFW Level 6