GV2F4-Soil Ecology and Functions

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 Terrestrial Ecosystem Processes and Environmental Microbiology. Maximum number of students: 40
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Elizabeth Shaw

Email: e.j.shaw@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

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, sulphur and phosphorus. 

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

There will be a 1.5 hour lecture each week followed by a laboratory or computer-based practical of about two hours work with the exception of weeks 4 and 7 where the students will prepare for and lead a poster session, respectively. 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 15
Seminars 4
Practicals classes and workshops 20
Guided independent study 46 15
Total hours by term 85.00 15.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 50
Report 30
Set exercise 20

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Will consist of four components:

1. A poster presentation (in groups) on the metabolic diversity of soil microorganisms (10%).

2. A 1500 word essay (50%).

3. A structured assignment using the model, N-cycle (1200 words) (30%).

4. Short answer (400 words) lab practical questions (10%).


Relative percentage of coursework: 100%

Formative assessment methods:

Penalties for late submission:

Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy.

Assessment requirements for a pass:
40% overall

Reassessment arrangements:

Re-submission of coursework in August/September. 

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

1) Students may wish to purchase key text books from the reading list

Last updated: 10 September 2018


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