Topic 2: Ecosystems and Ecology

Parasitic mistletoe
Topic 2: Ecosystems and Ecology

There are five sub-topics in this topic. You may need to think carefully about whether you split this topic into several units and also split over time in order to maximise your access to fieldwork opportunities.

I have chosen to group 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 to break up what would be an enormous unit and also to maximise time when I can take students outside for fieldwork in Switzerland. I teach 2.4 and 2.5 separately before and during a local multi-day field trip. This also serves as a useful way of revisiting ideas around productivity.

See also  Review Topic 2 Productivity and Biomes 

Significant Ideas:

  • A species interacts with its abiotic and biotic environments, and its niche is described by these interactions.
  • Populations change and respond to interactions with the environment.
  • Any system has a carrying capacity for a given species.
  • The interactions of species with their environment result in energy and nutrient flows.
  • The interactions of species with their environment result in energy and nutrient flows.
  • Photosynthesis and respiration play a significant role in the flow of energy in communities.
  • The feeding relationships of species in a system can be modeled using food chains, food webs and ecological pyramids.
  • Ecosystems are linked together by energy and matter flows.
  • The Sun’s energy drives these flows, and humans are impacting the flows of energy and matter both locally and globally.
  • Climate determines the type of biome in a given area, although individual ecosystems may vary due to many local
    abiotic and biotic factors.
  • Succession leads to climax communities that may vary due to random events and interactions over time. This leads to a
    pattern of alternative stable states for a given ecosystem.
  • Ecosystem stability, succession and biodiversity are intrinsically linked.
  • The description and investigation of ecosystems allows for comparisons to be made between different ecosystems
    and for them to be monitored, modelled and evaluated over time, measuring both natural change and human impacts.
  • Ecosystems can be better understood through the investigation and quantification of their components.

Recommended Teaching Time (not including practicals): 25 hours

2.1 Species and Populations

To start this new unit I begin with some simple definitions then tackle the fundamental and realised niche. I find this brings students straight into the world of ecology, actively using words that can...

2.2 Communities and Ecosystems

I teach this sub-topic immediately following 2.1. They naturally flow from one to the next idea. I have enjoyed re-imagining how I teach ecology since the last version of the ESS syllabus. I focus less...

2.3 Flows of Energy and Matter

This sub-topic links to the very idea of systems when we try to understand what happens to the energy that enters the earth's global systems and how does it flow through the system. Is it transferred...

2.4 Biomes, Zonation and Succession

In Sub-topic 2.4 we learn about biomes, zonation and succession. This is an interesting grouping of topics as they can overlap conceptually. I have chosen to teach these topics relatively late in year...

2.5 Investigating Ecosystems

What? How Many? Where? Why? These are the questions that an ecologist is attempting to answer when they are studying a research site. I believe the best way to teach this sub-topic is through practical...

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