Studying online

There are now 2 possible online modes for units:

Units with modes Online timetabled and Online flexible are available for any student to self-enrol and study online.

Click on an offering mode for more details.

Unit Overview


This unit focuses on students developing a mechanistic understanding of the hydrologic, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems as a basis for developing solutions to fundamental questions in ecology and environmental science. For example, how do we predict what happens to rates of nitrogen transformation under a changing climate? How do plant communities respond to alterations in groundwater distribution and availability? What role do termites and ants play in driving nutrient cycles? How do we determine impacts of catchment land use on estuarine food webs or groundwater quality? Examples are drawn from marine, freshwater, agricultural and other terrestrial ecosystems. Lectures are complemented by a series of problem-based laboratories where students have the opportunity to learn cutting-edge techniques. The unit poses as many questions as it provides answers. The idea is that, by trying to answer these questions, students develop a mechanistic understanding of biogeochemical cycles and the skills to apply this knowledge to real-world problems. A core theme for the unit is the way stable isotopes are used as a tool for developing both fundamental and applied understanding of the ecological and hydrological functioning of ecosystems.

6 points
(see Timetable)
Semester 1UWA (Perth)Face to face
Semester 1OnlineOnline timetabled

Students are able to (1) grasp the fundamental concepts of nutrient, carbon and water cycling and the linkages among plants, microbes and their environments that underpin ecosystem functioning; (2) understand the relative sizes of the pools of C, N and P (as well as an overview for other elements) in the atmosphere, vegetation, soil, water and rocks and outline the major fluxes of C, N and P in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; (3) describe the major biological and biogeochemical processes that drive nutrient cycles; (4) understand the factors that are likely to limit or stimulate those fluxes and processes in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; and (5) approach problem solving based on first principles.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) paper reviews and presentations to class on specialist topics (30 per cent); (2) a paper presenting findings from a small research project (30 per cent); and (3) problem-solving tasks (40 per cent). Further information is available in the unit outline.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Professor Pauline Grierson
Unit rules
Enrolment in
72520 Master of Biological Science
or 71580 Master of Biotechnology
or 70630 Master of Science
or 72510 Master of Agricultural Science
or BH004 Bachelor of Science (Honours)
or 72540 Master of Hydrogeology
or 72530 Master of Environmental Science
Advisable prior study
ENVT3363 Ecological Processes
or PLNT2201 Plants in Action
Contact hours
one full day per week for six consecutive weeks (the total workload for the unit is 150 hours)
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.