Terrestrial Ecosystems: Material from 2014

The ecosystem approach to ecology treats organisms and the physical aspects of their environment as components of a single integrated system. Terrestrial ecosystem functioning is governed by interactions amongst animals, plants, and soil organisms, as well as exchanges of energy and resources with the atmosphere, soils, rocks, and aquatic environments. This advanced undergraduate level ecology course is focused on plant-soil interactions as being a fundamental determinant of the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems around the world. As a group, we will attempt to synthesize recent advances arising from the ecosystem approach with established ecological theory to describe and explain ecosystem-level patterns and processes in the terrestrial environment. Since human activities are now having increasingly pervasive and dominant effects on natural ecosystems, the course will include an examination of global change issues in the context of landscape-level dynamics in space and time, and whole Earth biogeochemistry. In that context, the course content for 2014/15 in particular will be centered around the following thematic question:  What are the problems associated with current farm management practices in agroecosystems, and how can they be realistically and sustainably addressed?

Learning outcomes:

By the end of this course, the student should be able to:

  1. Explain and evaluate the major concepts underlying terrestrial ecosystem ecology
  2. Describe and contrast the major processes and features that distinguish local terrestrial ecosystem-types
  3. Present a synthetic, logical and individualistic seminar on a fundamental issue in terrestrial ecosystem ecology
  4. Develop, conduct, analyse, and write a lab/field research study that addresses a student-inspired question in terrestrial ecosystem ecology.

Professor: Paul Grogan

Lecture times: Tuesdays 08.30-10.00; Fridays 10.00-11.30
Lab/field trip times: Mostly alternate Mondays: 11.30-14.30; Overnight weekend field course on October 18-19
Lab Instructor: Nishka Wright
Location: Room 3110, (Labs 3311) Biosciences building


5% Field trip presentation
10% Participation in discussions
10% Seminar questions
25% Seminar
25% Research report
25% Final exam

Required textbook: Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology. 2011. 2nd edition. Chapin, F.S. III, Matson, P.A. and Vitousek, P. Springer.

Schedule (to be updated throughout the course): 

Lecture/Seminar sessions are 80 minutes; Labs up to 3 hours

Week Day and time Convenor Topic Reading
08 Sept Monday 11.30 - LAB Nishka Field trip to Bellevue House farm garden  
  Tuesday, 08.30 Paul Introduction: The Ecosystem Concept Chapin et al, Chapter 1: 1-12,17-22
  Friday, 10.00 Paul The Climate System Chapin et al, Chapter 2: 23-26, 38-41, 50-61
15 Sept Monday 11.30 - LAB Nishka Politics- How it can shape science  
  Tuesday, 08.30 Paul Soil Development Chapin et al, Chapter 1: 13-17; Chapter 3: 63-69
  Friday, 10.00 Paul Soil Development continued, and field trip to Miller Hall Geological Museum  
22 Sept Monday 11.30 - LAB Nishka/Paul Field trip to "The Salt of the Earth" local farm  
  Tuesday, 08.30 Paul Soil Transformations, and Physical Properties Chapin et al, Chapter 3: 73-78, 82-85
  Friday, 10.00 Paul Soil Chemical Properties Chapin et al, Ch. 3: 86-89; Ch. 7: 204-206; Ch. 9: 287-290; 293-296.
29 Sept Monday 11.30 - LAB Nishka Proposal development; Lab tour; Guest lecture by Casper Christensen  
  Tuesday, 08.30 Paul The Biology of Soils I Chapin et al, Chapter 7: 183-194; 243-244; Chapter 9: 271-280 (overview)
  Friday, 10.00 Paul The Biology of Soils II Chapin et al, Chapter 7: 183-194; Chapter 11: 321-324; 334-335.
6 Oct Monday 11.30 - LAB Nishka Proposal development  
  Tuesday, 08.30 Paul Decomposition, and Plant-Soil interactions Chapin et al, Chapter 7: 194-204; Chapter 8: 229-233, 238-241, 253-255
  Friday, 10.00   No class  
  Tuesday, 08.30 Caleb Axelrod In what contexts is agroforestry a viable option for improving sustainable agriculture? Wotherspoon, A. et al. 2014. Carbon sequestration potential of five tree species in a 25-year old temperate tree-based intercropping system in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems (88):631-643.
  Friday, 10.00 Russell Stairs What are likely to be the most effective options to sustain our current agricultural practices once fossil fuels run out? Hunt C.L. et al, 2013. NOx emissions and performance of a compact diesel tractor fueled with emulsified and non-emulsified biodiesel. Journal of Agric. Systems, Tech., and Management (24):12-22.
18 Oct Overnight field trip   Field visits to Kaiser Lake no-till conventional farm, and to two ecosystem-level manipulative experiments in old field meadow grassland  
19 Oct Overnight field trip   Field visit to Ravensfield Biodynamics farm  
20 Oct Tuesday, 08.30 Fiona Emdin

Why is livestock hormone runoff a serious issue in agriculture, and what is the best strategy to address it?

Lucas, S, and Jones, D.L. 2006. Biodegradation of estrone and 17beta-estradiol in grassland soils amended with animal wastes. Soil Biology and Biochemistry (38):2803-2815.
  Friday, 10.00 John Serafini On balance, will climate change have a net positive or negative effect on Ontario’s wine production? Parra et al. 2010. Effects of climate change scenarios on Tempranillo grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.) ripening: response
to a combination of elevated CO2 and temperature,
and moderate drought. Plant and Soil 337:179–191.
27 Oct. Monday 11.30 - LAB Nishka Student projects -collection/processing of samples  
  Tuesday, 08.30 Victoria Donovan How are the impacts of climate change and the desire for sustainable agriculture influencing one another? Which of these two factors has the greater economic force? Nelson, G.C. et al. 2014. Agriculture and climate change in global scenarios: why don’t the models agree. Agricultural Economics 45: 85–101.
  Friday, 10.00 Jin-Zhi (Gigi) Pao

Is a local diet really a good alternative to reach environmental sustainability, and how can it be balanced with social and economic concerns?

Giambolini et al. 2011. Testing the local reality: does the Willamette Valley growing region produce enough to meet the needs of the local population? A comparison of agriculture production and recommended dietary requirements. Agriculture and Human Values 28:247-262
3 Nov. Tuesday, 08.30 Benia Nowak

How can the socio-economic constraints that deter small-scale permaculture and biodynamic agriculture adoption be overcome?

Reeve J.R. et al. 2011. Sustainable agriculture: A case study of a small Lopez Island farm. Agricultural Systems 104:572–579
  Friday, 10.00 Holly Downey

How can vertical agriculture be developed to make economic and environmental sense as part of the solution to sustainable food production?

Astee, L and Kishnani, N. 2010. Building Integrated Agriculture - Utilising rooftops for sustainable food crop cultivation in Singapore. Journal of Green Building 5(2): 105-113.

Cox, S. and Van Tassel, D. 2010. Vertical farming doesn't stack up. Synthesis/Regeneration 52: 4-7.

10 Nov. Monday 11.30 - LAB Nishka Statistical analyses of project data  
  Tuesday, 08.30 Keira Mckee Should the government provide subsidies to encourage farmers to switch to no-till farming from conventional farming? ​ Epplin, F et al. 2005. Coste of conventional tillage and no-till continuous wheat production for four farm sizes. Journal of American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers 69-76.
  Friday, 10.00 Jessie Luedi What strategies would be most effective in promoting reduced meat consumption to mitigate climate change? Scarborough, P.et al, 2014. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans in the U.K. Climatic Change 125: 179-192.
17 Nov. Tuesday, 08.30 Jordan Constant Are GM crops a viable option for the progression of agriculture and how can the barriers (social or otherwise) involved be reasonably addressed? Seralini G-E., et al, 2012. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant
genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology 50: 4221–4231.
  Friday, 10.00 Paul Sustaining socio-ecological systems Chapin et al, Chapter 15
24 Nov. Monday 11.30 - LAB Nishka Student project presentations  
  Tuesday, 08.30   No class  
  Friday, 10.00 Paul Synthesis  

Students listening to a lecture

Jessie Luedi leading her in-class seminar that was focussed on the following question: What strategies would be most effective in promoting reduced meat consumption to mitigate climate change?

Last Updated:27 Nov 2014