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Study information

Ecological Responses to Climate Change

Module titleEcological Responses to Climate Change
Module codeBIO3415
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Gabriel Yvon-Durocher (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The module will define and explain the recent ecological responses to climate change and the ultimate societal implications of these shifts in the biosphere. Anthropogenic impacts will be defined under the broad headings of climate change, land use change, pollution, and biodiversity change (invasions and extinctions). The ecological consequences of these stressors will then be explored, concentrating on biodiversity, species distributions and extinctions, habitat fragmentation and simplification, and the provision of ecosystem services of benefit to humans. Organismal, community and ecosystem scale effects will be covered in turn, and examples will be presented from both terrestrial and aquatic domains, and from polar to tropical biomes, together with a review of the avenues to be followed for remediation of biosphere processes and the conservation of biological diversity.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will cover a formal treatment of current concern with the anthropogenic disturbance of the biosphere. It will deal with predictions of climate change, land use change, pollution, and biodiversity change, embracing both aquatic and terrestrial domains. There will be elements of biogeography, biogeochemistry, community ecology and physiological ecology. It will consider how organisms, populations, communities and ecosystems respond and adapt to climate change and how scientists actually measure and predict these responses. Finally, the module will define how ecology can provide tools and specify priorities for the amelioration of the most harmful and destabilising effects of climate change.

The skills you gain from discussion and critique of cutting edge research, coupled with independent review of the scientific literature, will all stand you in good stead for careers in the biological sciences and the environmental sector by developing or enhancing your employability. Transferable skills to other sectors include: problem solving (linking theory to practice, responding to novel and unfamiliar problems, data handling), time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group), collaboration (taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work), self and peer review (taking responsibility for own learning, using feedback from multiple sources), presentation skills and audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats).

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Define the key drivers of global change
  • 2. Discuss how different levels of ecological organisation have responded and are predicted to respond to climate change
  • 3. Illustrate how the responses of different levels of ecological organisation are linked in the context of understanding the responses of ecosystems
  • 4. Describe how the ecological responses to climate change will alter the benefits humans receive from the biosphere

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 6. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 7. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 8. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 9. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 11. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 12. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 13. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 14. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements

Syllabus plan

The module will have one weekly session (1 x 2-hour lecture) and will consider the following topics:

  • Drivers of global climate change
  • Importance of ecosystem integrity and the value of ecosystem services
  • Organismal level responses to climate change
  • Population and community level responses to climate change
  • Ecosystem level responses to climate change
  • Impacts of climate change in the ocean
  • Impacts of climate change in terrestrial ecosystems
  • Impacts of climate change in inland waters
  • Impacts of invasive species
  • Synergies and amelioration strategies

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching18Lectures (9 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching4Group discussions and oral presentations (2 x 2 hours)
Guided independent study128Additional research, reading and preparation for lectures, seminars and module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group discussions for literature review Ongoing throughout the moduleAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay601500 words1-12Written on request
Collaborative literature review401000 words1-12Written and oral

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-12August ref/def
Collaborative literature reviewCollaborative literature review1-12August ref/def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to write a further assessment. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Walther, G.-R., Post, E., Convey, P., Menzel, A., Parmesan,C., Beebee, T. J. C., Fromentin, J.-M., Hoegh-Guldberg,O. and Bairlein, F. 2002 Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416, 389–395. (doi:10.1038/416389a)
  • Yvon-Durocher, G. et al. 2012 Reconciling the temperature dependence of respiration across time scales and ecosystem types. Nature 487, 472–476. (doi:10.1038/nature11205)
  • Yvon-Durocher, G., Montoya, J. M., Trimmer, M. and Woodward, G. 2011 Warming alters the size spectrum and shifts the distribution of biomass in freshwater ecosystems. Global Change Biol. 17, 1681–1694. (doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02321.x)
  • Yvon-Durocher, G., Jones, J. I., Trimmer, M., Woodward, G. and Montoya, J. M. 2010 Warming alters the metabolic balance of ecosystems. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 365, 2117–2126. (doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0038)
  • Daufresne, M., Lengfellner, K. and Sommer, U. 2009 Global warming benefits the small in aquatic ecosystems. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (doi:10.1073/pnas.0902080106)
  • Parmesan, C. 2006 Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 37, 637–669. (doi:10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.37.091305.110100)
  • Parmesan, C. et al. 1999 Poleward shifts in geographical ranges of butterfly species associated with regional warming. Nature 399, 579–583. (doi:10.1038/21181)
  • Petchey, O. L., McPhearson, P. T., Casey, T. M. and Morin, P. J. 1999 Environmental warming alters food-web structure and ecosystem function. Nature 402, 69–72. (doi:10.1038/47023)
  • Petchey, O. L., Brose, U. and Rall, B. C. 2010 Predicting the effects of temperature on food web connectance. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 365, 2081–2091. (doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0011)
  • Brown, J. H., Gillooly, J. F., Allen, A. P., Savage, V. M. and West, G. B. 2004 Toward a metabolic theory of ecology. Ecology 85, 1771–1789. (doi:10.1890/03-9000)
  • Theme Issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: 'The effects of climate change on biotic interactions and ecosystem services' compiled and edited by José M. Montoya and Dave Raffaelli. July 12, 2010; 365 (1549)
  • Theme Issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: 'Climate change in size-structured ecosystems' compiled and edited by Ulrich Brose, Jennifer A. Dunne, Jose M. Montoya, Owen L. Petchey and Ute Jacob. November 5, 2012; 367 (1605)
  • Book: Lovejoy, T.E. and Hannah, L. 2006. Climate change and biodiversity. Yale University Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Climate change, ecology, biogeochemistry, carbon cycle, ecosystems

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date