Terrestrial Ecosystems (BIOL 416): 2016

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.
The course content for 2016/17 in particular will be centered around developing and applying terrestrial ecosystem ecological concepts to address the following thematic question: What feasible changes in agroecosystem management would be most effective to meet global food demands in 2050?

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 ecosystems, including farm-types
  3. Present a synthetic, logical and individualistic seminar on a fundamental issue in agroecosystem ecology
  4. Develop, conduct, analyse, and write a lab/field research study on a student-inspired question in agroecosystem ecology
  5. Synthesize, evaluate and critique the potential solutions to meeting future global food demand

Professor: Paul Grogan

Lecture times: Wednesdays 10.00-11.30; Fridays 8.30-10.00
Lab/field trip times: Tuesdays: 8.30-11.30; Overnight weekend field course on October 22-23
Lab Instructor: Harris Ivens (E-mail: 15hi2@queensu.ca; Office: Room 2507)
Location: Room 3110, (Labs 3311) Biosciences building


10% Participation in discussions
15% Seminar questions
25% Seminar
5% Field trip presentation
25% Research report
20% Final writing assignment

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 beginning Day and time Convenor Topic Reading
12 Sept. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris/Paul Introduction to the course theme  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Paul Introduction: The Ecosystem Concept Chapin et al, Chapter 1: 1-12,17-22.
  Friday, 8.30 Dr. Gary Van Loon (Queen's Env.Sci./Chemistry) Global Food Security Foley et al. 2011. Solutions for a Cultivated Planet. Nature 478: 337-342.
19 Sept. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB   No meeting  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Paul The State Factor Framework for understanding Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology, and Soil Development Chapin et al, Chapter 1: 13-17; Chapter 2: 23-26, 38-41, 50-61; Chapter 3: 63-69.
  Friday, 8.30 Mara Shaw (Exec. Director - The Loving Spoonful) Local Food Security and Food Waste The Loving Spoonful
26 Sept. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Farm field Trip - The Kitchen Garden, Wilton The Kitchen Garden
  Wednesday, 10.00 Paul Soil Development continued, and field trip to Miller Hall Geological Museum  
  Friday, 8.30 Paul Soil Transformations, and Physical Properties Chapin et al, Chapter 3: 73-78, 82-85.
3 Oct. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Lab tour, guest lecture by John Serafini (M.Sc. candidate), and initiation of Group Research Projects  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Paul Soil Chemical Properties Chapin et al, Ch. 3: 86-89; Ch. 7: 204-206; Ch. 9: 287-290; 293-296.
  Friday, 8.30 Paul Group Research Project brain-storming discussion  
10 Oct. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Group Research Project proposal development  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Paul The Biology of Soils I Chapin et al, Chapter 7: 183-190; 243-244; Chapter 9: 271-280 (overview).
  Friday, 8.30 Paul The Biology of Soils II Chapin et al, Chapter 7: 183-194; Chapter 11: 321-324; 334-335.
17 Oct. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Group Research Project proposal development  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Paul Decomposition, and Plant-Soil interactions Chapin et al, Chapter 7: 190-204; Chapter 8: 229-233, 238-241, 253-255.
  Friday, 8.30   No class - Field trip prep  
22 Oct. Overnight field trip Harris/Paul    
23 Oct. Overnight field trip Harris/Paul    
24 Oct. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Group Research Project  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Andrew McCann (guest lecturer) Origins of Capitalism in Agriculture and its Future  
  Friday, 8.30 Hudabia Ahmad Increasing agricultural production by enhancing crop biodiversity: Do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages? Minns, A. et al. 2001. The functioning of European grassland ecosystems: Potential benefits of biodiversity to agriculture. Outlook on Agriculture 30(3): 179-185.
31 Oct. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Group Research Project- book time with Harris  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Victoria Guba and Samantha Boyko Consumer demand has a major influence on agricultural practices. How can we shape consumer decision-making so there is a shift toward purchasing sustainable food? Vermeir I. and Verbeke, W. 2006. Sustainable food consumption: Exploring the consumer 'attitude - behavioural intention' gap. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 19:169-194.
  Friday, 8.30 Madi Mueller and Faustine Quiles Why is the G.M.O. debate so polarised? Does this polarisation prevent us from meeting global food demand in 2050? Gaskell, G et al. 1999. World's apart? The reception of Genetically Modified Foods in Europe and the U.S. Science. 285 (5426)384-387.
7 Nov. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Group Research Project- book time with Harris  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Holly Jones and Amanda Marshall

How can agroforestry be more successfully implemented as a means to meet future food demands for small-holder tropical farmers?

Rosenstock et al, 2014. Agroforestry with NN2-fixing trees: sustainable development's friend or foe? Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 6:15-21.
  Friday, 8.30 Kaitlyn Wallis and Rhett Andruko

How does the current organic certification connect consumer narratives with agricultural practices, and how can this system be improved to help achieve sustainable food production?

Mazzacano D'Amato and Falzon, 2015. Why do some consumers prefer organic food? A discourse analytical perspective. Journal of Food Products Marketing 21:255-273.
14 Nov. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Group Research Project- book time with Harris  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Matt Smith How can we maximise the benefits and minimise the disadvantages of GM crop use to help us meet 2050 global food demand? Klumper and Qaim, 2014. A meta-analysis of the impacts of Genetically Modified Crops. PLoS ONE 9(11):e111629.
  Friday, 8.30 Gabrielle Gillett and Derek Maclean Are current organic farming trends hindering the development of effective sustainable agriculture? Hirel et al. 2011. Improving nitrogen use efficiency in crops for sustainable agriculture. Sustainability (3):1452-1485.
21 Nov. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Group Research Project- Presentations and Discussion  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Allen Tian How can we overcome the technical and economic restraints of hydroponic agricultural systems that would allow us to alleviate malnutrition in lower income urban populations?

Joseph and Muthuchamy. 2014. Productivity, Quality and Economics of Tomato
(Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) Cultivation in
Aggregate Hydroponics – A Case Study from Coimbatore Region of Tamil Nadu. Indian Journal of Science and Technology 7(8): 1078–1086.

  Friday, 8.30 Claire McPolin and Connor Mitchinson

Should animals be completely eliminated from agro-ecosystems, what strategies would effectively shift us towards reduced meat consumption and would this be an effective way to meet global food demands in 2050?

Reijnders and Soret. 2003. Quantification of the environmental impact of different dietary protein choices. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(suppl):664S–8S.

28 Nov. Tuesday, 8.30 - LAB Harris Report writing time - No lab session  
  Wednesday, 10.00 Paul Sustaining socio-ecological systems Chapin et al, Chapter 15, 423-446.
  Friday, 8.30 Paul Synthesis  
2016 Class photo
Class photo. From left: Kaitlyn Wallis, Madi Mueller, Holly Jones, Connor Mitchinson, Gabielle Gillett, Victoria Guba, Rhett Andruko, Derek Maclean, Hudabia Ahmad, Matt Smith, Samantha Boyko, Claire McPolin, and myself.  (Amanda Marshall, Faustine Quiles and Allen Tian were not present for the above photo but were also part of this class group)
Whiteboard displaying topics/themes of the course
The pros and cons of 'organic' certification: Whiteboard illustrating seminar discussion outcomes and ideas

Last Updated: 23 December 2016

 To see materials from previous iterations of this course, use the drop-down menu under the 'Teaching' tab at the top of this page