Soil Ecology and Functions

University of Reading

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Soil Ecology and Functions

  • Host University

    University of Reading

  • Location

    Reading, England

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Module Provider: Geography and Environmental Science
    Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
    Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
    Non-modular pre-requisites: Recommended for students with an interest in Environmental Microbiology. Maximum number of students: 30
    Modules excluded:
    Module version for: 2016/7

    Summary module description:
    The module will present an introduction to soil organisms, their ecology and the functional role they play in soil. The module will provide fundamental information on: the soil as a microbial and macrobial habitat; the diversity of organisms living in soil, their food-web interactions and their functional role in nutrient cycling. The associated practical work will provide experience in use of computer models to study the soil nitrogen cycle and techniques for studying soil organisms in the laboratory.

    This module aims to provide the student with:
    ? A knowledge of the major groups of organisms in soil, including microorganisms, meso- and macro-fauna.
    ? An understanding of interactions of soil organisms in food webs and with the soil physical and chemical environment.
    ? An insight into the functional role of soil organisms as drivers of soil organic matter dynamics and nutrient cycling.
    ? A practical and theoretical understanding of techniques used to study soil organisms.

    Assessable learning outcomes:
    Assessable outcomes
    By the end of the module it is expected that the student will be able to:
    - Compare the morphological and metabolic diversity of organisms living in soil
    - Analyse the trophic relationships between soil organisms and their interactions with soil physical and chemical properties at different spatial and temporal scales
    - Evaluate the functional roles of soil organisms in decomposition and nutrient cycling and the wider environmental signifance of these processes
    - Use a computer model to predict transformations and losses in the soil nitrogen cycle and appraise the model output
    - Identify and criticise methodologies used to test, enumerate and isolate soil organisms in the laboratory

    Additional outcomes:
    - Students will gain general experience of microbiology practical work, including considerations of sterile technique and health and safety issues.
    - They will enhance their IT skills, especially in the graphical representation of data using a computer package.
    - The students will gain a holistic understanding of soil ecological functioning at the centre of terrestrial ecosystems and become familiar with new terminology and concepts in a highly topical field.

    Outline content:
    The lecture content covers:
    Introduction to soil ecology and functions
    The soil habitat
    Soil microorganisms
    Metabolic diversity of soil microorganisms
    Soil mesoorganisms
    Soil macroorganisms
    Organism interactions and soil processes ? microbial control 1
    Organism interactions and soil processes ? microbial control 2
    Plant-microbe symbioses
    Organism interactions and soil processes ? influence of soil animals

    The practical content covers:
    Isolation, microscopic examination and characterization of free-living and symbiotic soil bacteria and fungi
    Examination of soil animals
    Computer simulation of the nitrogen cycle

    Global context:
    This module examines the soil biological and biochemical processes that contribute to the global biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus.

    Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
    There will be one lecture each week followed by a laboratory or computer-based practical of about three hours work with the exception of weeks 6 and 7 where the students will prepare for and lead a poster session, respectively.

    Contact hours:
    Lectures 15
    Seminars 2.5
    Practicals classes and workshops 22.5
    Guided independent study 58
    Total hours by term 98

    Summative Assessment Methods:
    Written exam 50
    Written assignment including essay 20
    Report 20
    Set exercise 10

    Other information on summative assessment:
    The module will assessed by both coursework (50%) and exam (50%).

    Will consist of three components:
    1. A poster presentation (in groups) on the metabolic diversity of soil microorganisms.
    2. A 1500 word essay on the impact of earthworms on soil microarthropods,
    3. A structured assignment using the model, N-cycle.

    Relative percentage of coursework: 50%

    Length of examination:
    A 1.5 h exam

    Requirements for a pass:
    40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:
    Re-examination (50%) and re-submission of coursework (50%) in August/September.

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Some courses may require additional fees.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits are converted to semester credits/quarter units differently among U.S. universities. Students should confirm the conversion scale used at their home university when determining credit transfer.

Please reference fall and spring course lists as not all courses are taught during both semesters.

Please note that some courses with locals have recommended prerequisite courses. It is the student's responsibility to consult any recommended prerequisites prior to enrolling in their course.


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