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: 2019/0

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 laboratory and/or computer simulation methods 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:

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 biological and environmental controls on these processes.

- Evaluate the wider environmental significance of the functional roles of soil organisms in decomposition and nutrient cycling.

- 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

  • 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 12
Guided independent study: 54 15
Total hours by term 85 15
Total hours for module 100

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 on the N-cycle (1200 words) (30%).

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

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.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

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

Last updated: 8 April 2019


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