Climate Change Ecology, REG-20306

This course explores the interactions of biological systems with the climate system and reflects on the impacts of past and current climate changes on different levels of ecological organization (i.e. populations, communities and ecosystems) to prepare students for the challenges of the future.

Course Description

Understanding how global climate change affects ecological interactions is fundamentally important for successful conservation and management of ecological resources.

The course complements classical courses on ecological theory and practice by focusing on the implications of climate change for the composition, structure and functioning of ecological systems. The target groups are students from BBN, complemented with students from other programmes.

Learning outcomes

After successful completing this course, students are expected to be able to:

  • Identify direct and indirect effects of climate change on ecological systems through simple conceptual models.
  • Apply ecological theories to critically evaluate the impacts of climate change on the conservation and management of resources.
  • Assess scientific papers critically.
  • Analyse in written form the consequences of climate change on ecological interactions for conservation and management.
  • Communicate scientific findings in oral presentations.

Learning materials and resources

Climate Change Biology by Lee Hannah (Elsevier, second edition 2015). All chapters are currently and freely-downloadable within the WUR computing environment: download.

Recent scientific papers

Educational Activities

We will use a combination of teaching methods that require active participation by all students. Students will work in teams to present a lecture, write a scientific report, and prepare a knowledge clip script to communicate scientific ideas to their classmates.

Assignment 1: Lectures

    Lectures will be based on the book chapters and presented by the students with close supervision by the lecturers. Principal themes include the following:

    Impacts of Human Induced Climate Change

    • Major features of climate systems
    • Human-driven climate change
    • Phenology: changes in timing of biological events due to climate change
    • Ecosystem change: communities and food webs

    Lessons from the Past

    • Past terrestrial responses
    • Past marine responses
    • Past freshwater responses lessons of past
    • Extinctions

    Looking to the Future

    • Insights from experimentation
    • Modelling species and ecosystem responses
    • Ecosystem services

    Implications for Conservation

    • Adaptation of conservation strategies
    • Connectivity and landscape planning
    • Species management

    Assignment 2: Write and present a scientific report

    Students work in teams (ca. 6 students) on an ecological problem of their choice that is impacted by climate change. They can choose from problems at different scales of organization (populations, communities, ecosystems). They should formulate a hypothesis, based on general theories presented during the lectures or from course literature, and then they build a conceptual model to assess how climate change impacts the ecological interactions involved in their study system. Students survey the scientific literature in a systematic, quantitative way, to collect, assess the evidence for the different components of their model and for their hypothesis, and formulate conclusions and recommendations.

    Assessment 3: Prepare a knowledge clip script

    Students work in teams of 6 students to write a knowledge clip script on an ecological problem of their choice that is impacted by climate change. Students can choose from problems discussed in class or revised during their research project.

    Assessment strategy

    Students will be evaluated through three assignments and a final exam:

    1. Lecture - 15 %
    2. Final report - 30 %
    3. Script - 15 %
    4. Final exam - 40 %

    All assignments are evaluated by the two lecturers, and feedback with regard to the quality of the assignments is given by the supervisor to the students/student groups. The minimum to pass each assignment is 5.5. Evaluations are kept for one academic year.