Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Semester 1
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 6 Hours. 6 x 1 hour
Practical Field Days. 6 full days
Seminars / Tutorials 4 Hours. 1 x 4 hours
Practical 6 x 4 hour practicals


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment (class and individual project reports, field notebook assessment and a herbarium collection of bryophytes and lichen). Project report to be handed in at the start of semester 1 followed by a seminar session.   Course Work:  100%
Supplementary Assessment Extended essay plus viva  100%

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the module students will be able to

  • differentiate between the main plant communities of the area
  • identify the main species of higher plants, mosses, lichens and fungi
  • appreciate the role animals play in regulating plant growth and decomposition.


The main aim of this module is to introduce students to the major ecological plant and decomposition processes within limestone communities on the Burren. The module will also address how the vegetation and soils have developed since the end of the Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago. Plant and animal communities will be examined to see how the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) for Great Britain can be extended to define Irish plant communities. Several types of ecological succession will be investigated and models produced to show relationships between and within the various communities, as well as the associated micro-environmental parameters. The ways in which modern farming methods have changed the landscape will also be considered, as will the most appropriate strategies for conserving the best examples of surviving Irish landscapes and their unique range of plant associations. A major part of the course will involve collection and analysis of field data to be incorporated in a series of assessed reports. The module is based at the Burren Outdoor Education Centre, Turlough, Co. Clare.

A major component of the module will be to investigate those factors that limit the distribution of selected higher plants, animals, mosses, lichens and fungi. This will include the examination of microclimatic factors, substrate properties and trophic interactions. The latter will address competition in relation to competition for light, moisture and nutrients.


  • An examination of Burren plant communities with emphasis on the composition and ecology of:
a) limestone communities;
b) hazelwood communities;
c) calcareous grassland, heath, turlough and mire communities;

  • A study of colonisation and succession in hazelwoods and on limestone pavements. The development of plant communities associated with faetures of these pavements (solution pits, hollows, runnels, flutes, grikes) will be examined in relation to micro-topographical and micro-climatic factors. This will include an examination of the main morphological and reproductive features of the major species to discover how they might be highly adapted to their selective habitats.
  • Relationships between soils types and plant communities.
  • Role of animals in decomposition and herbivory
  • The ecology of saprotrophic and mycorrhizal fungi.
  • Conservation and management issues within the Burren National Park.
  • An introduction to micro phytogeography.
  • A project on a specific vegetation community or mosaic, or a specified group of plants.

Reading List

General Text
Grime,JP, Hodgson,JG and Hunt,R (1990) The abridged Comparative Plant Ecology Chapman and Hall. Primo search Kent,M and Coker,P (1992) Vegetation Description and Analysis Belhaven Press, London. Primo search Nelson,EC (1998) The Burren Boethius Press & The Conservancy of the Burren. Primo search Rodwell,JS (ed) (1991-9) British Plant Communities Vol.1-5 Cambridge University Press. Primo search

Smith, S. E. (1997.) Mycorrhizal symbiosis /Sally E. Smith and David J. Read. Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 6