Biogeochemistry and Global Change: Material from 2013

Welcome to the Biol 510 webpage for Winter 2013

This ecology course will examine the underlying causes of global change issues at levels ranging from biogeochemical processes through to human behaviour. The aim of the course is to develop students' perspectives on the relationship between ecology and the sustainability of our current civilisation. Students will lead informal seminar discussions on some component of this theme that is of particular interest to them.

Initial sessions will provide an overview of the history of human impacts on the structure and functioning of the Earth's ecosystems, especially in the context of the global phosphorus cycle. The principal question that this course will address is: What are the implications of anthropogenic phosphorus use for our civilisation’s sustainability?

This course is for final year undergraduates and is specifically aimed at enhancing their capacities for critical thinking, group discussion, and independent learning. By the end of the course, students should be able to apply fundamental ecological perspectives toward understanding the Earth’s ecosystems and how they are being affected by human activities.

Learning outcomes:

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

  • Demonstrate an understanding of major global change issues related to human phosphorus use that integrates ecological, economic and social perspectives
  • Explain the biogeochemical contexts and processes of human phosphorus use that make it a global change issue
  • Develop, present and write cohesive, original syntheses on a chosen global change issue related to human phosphorus use
  • Describe the history of human influences on the global phosphorus cycle
  • Discuss the role of ecology in influencing and predicting the future of our civilisation

Professor: Paul Grogan

Seminar times: Tuesdays 10.00; Thursdays 08.30
Location: Room 3112, Biosciences building

Calendar: Sessions are 1.5 hours


15% Active participation in discussions (questions, comments, suggestions)
10% Seminar written questions
35% Seminar presentation (on book chapter, or a paper from reference list or one selected by the student if agreed with me)
40% Paper

Week beginning Day and time Convenor Topic Reading
7th January Tuesday 10.00
Paul Grogan
  Thursday 08.30
What can biology tell us about our future?  
14th January Tuesday 10.00 Paul David Suzuki film: The Force of Nature (part 1)

Natural gas heating footprint (discussion)

  Thursday 08.30 Paul David Suzuki film: The Force of Nature (part 2) Film discussion
21st January Tuesday 10.00 Paul Phosphorus cycle Smil, V. 2000. Phosphorus in the Environment: Natural flows and Human Interferences
  Thursday 08.30    

No class - Thinking time

28th January Tuesday 10.00     Informal class - Opportunity for one-on-one discussions
  Thursday 08.30     Informal class - Opportunity for one-on-one discussions
4th February Tuesday 10.00 Iv Garcha

How will issues of food security caused by anthropogenic P use further exacerbate the health and economic inequities between rich and poor nations?

Childers D. L. et al, 2011. Sustainability Challenges of Phosphorus and Food: Solutions from Closing the Human Phosphorus Cycle. Bioscience (61)2:117-124
  Thursday 08.30 Brendan Groves

What are the perceived benefits of chemical, biological or a combination of those treatments to recover phosphorus from wastewater?

Bioresource Technology (101):3992-3999.
  Saturday morning 9.30-12.30   Field trip to Ravensview Sewage Treatment Plant  
11th February Tuesday 10.00 Sara Hudson

Why has life evolved to rely on phosphorus, a relatively rare element, and how can this knowledge inform our present-day practices?

Westheimer, F.H., 1987. Why Nature Chose Phosphates. Science (235):1173-1178.
International Jnl of Astrobiology 8(2):69-74.

  Thursday 08.30 Adrian Dingle

What can an analysis of an individual’s ecological footprint for phosphorus tell us  about the optimal ways to manage anthropogenic P use?

Stout, W., et al, 1999. Reducing phosphorus export from croplands with FBC flyash and FBG gypsum. Fuel 78:175-178
18th February Tuesday 10.00 READING WEEK    
  Thursday 08.30 READING WEEK    
25th February Tuesday 10.00 Yoon-Mi Bae

What are the benefits and consequences of strategies and technologies that are most likely to maximize P recovery?

Schroder J, Cordell D, Smit AL, J and Rosemarin A, 2010. Sustainable strategie for improving phosphorus use management (Chapter 4 in Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. EU report ENVB1/ETU/2009/0025). Plant Research International, Wageningen University.

  Thursday 08.30 Rebekah Brown

How does our choice of clothing materials change our use of P and why, when people think of reducing their “P footprint” does this not come to mind as an option? 

Blaise, D et al, 2004. Effect of Organic and Modern Method of Cotton Cultivation on Soil Nutrient Status. Communications in Plant and Soil Science 35(9,10):1247-1261.
Harkin, F. 2007. Report: The Business of Fashion - Cotton Wars. Financial Times 2nd March.

4th March Tuesday 10.00 Victoria Attridge

What are the processes and constraints involved for society to address the effects of P-induced eutrophication on Canadian freshwater ecosystem services?

Costanza, R. et al 1997. The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature (387):253-260.

Lake Erie eutrophication case study information

  Thursday 08.30 Daniel Mayer

What are the most important economic consequences of phosphorus-caused eutrophication, and how can an understanding of ecosystem resilience help create incentives or provide solutions to this problem?

Carpenter, S. R. and Cottingham, K.L. 1997. Resilience and restoration of lakes. Conservation Ecology 1(1):1-14.

11th March Tuesday 10.00 Donovan Capes

How have evolutionary selection pressures on humans in the past rendered us ill-equipped as a society to deal with the approaching phosphorus limitations, and what social policies can help address this impending crisis?

Rees, W. 2002-03. Is Humanity Fatally Successful? Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis (30-31): 67-100.
  Thursday 08.30 Ronnie Lau

Do our current approaches to governing and policy-making make it difficult to create global change agendas such as those that might be required to attack the phosphorus problem?

Raustiala, K. 1997. States, NGOs, and International Environmental Institutions. International Studies Quarterly 41:719-740.
18th March Tuesday 10.00 Ariadna Neguletu- Morogan

What are the health trade-offs of using animal/human manure as compared to industrially manufactured synthetic fertilizer for meeting crop phosphorus requirements? 

Eamens, G.J. et al. 2006. Survival of pathogenic and indicator bacteria in biosolids applied to agricultural land. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 44:647–659.
  Thursday 08.30 Rachel Wang

How does human nutrition, the economy, and sustainability of anthropogenic P use issues affect dietary preferences in developed countries?

Reijinders, L., and Soret, S. 2003. Quantification of the environmental impact of different dietary protein choices. American Journal of Nutrition, 78(suppl.):664S-668S.
25th March Tuesday 10.00 Camille Di Lulio

How is the problem of anthropogenic P use in part driven by a consumerist ethos lacking in ecological conscience, and how might we address this?

Hamilton, C. 2010. Consumerism, self-creation and prospects for a new ecological consciousness. Journal of Cleaner Production 18:571-575.
  Thursday 08.30 Susan Lee

Should declining phosphorus reserves be a major concern in medicine, and if so how should the healthcare system prepare for phosphorus shortage in the future?

Kreisberg, J. 2008. Green Medicine: An Integral Approach that benefits Physicians, Patients, Communities and the Environment. Integrative Medicine 6(6):38-42

1st April Tuesday 10.00  

Debate I: Initiatives in Canada to implement human crop production using P from treated sewage should avoid drawing attention to aesthetic concerns
FOR: Ariadna, Adrian
AGAINST: Brendan, Donovan

Debate II: The word ‘organic’ as a label for promoting more environmentally-conscious anthropogenic P use should be replaced
FOR: Camille, Daniel
AGAINST: Ron, Rebekah

  Thursday 08.30

Debate III: The primary focus of our civilisation’s efforts to achieve sustainable P use should be the development of a legally-binding global protocol
FOR: Rachel, Ivneet, Yoon-Mi
AGAINST: Sara, Victoria, Susan



Last Updated: 8 May 2013