ENVT5512 Ecosystem Biogeochemistry

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

Supplementary assessment is not available in this unit.
Unit Coordinator(s)
Dr Pauline Grierson
Unit rules
enrolment in the Master of Biological Science (72520)
the Master of Biotechnology (71580)
the Master of Science (70630)
the Master of Agricultural Science (72510)
Bachelor of Science (Honours) (BH004)
Master of Hydrogeology (72540)
Master of Environmental Science (72530)
Advisable prior study:
ENVT3363 Ecological Processes
PLNT2201 Plants in Action
ENVT3305 Ecosystem Biogeochemistry, ENVT8305 Ecosystem Biogeochemistry
Contact hours
one full day per week for six consecutive weeks (the total workload for the unit is 150 hours)
Unit Outline
Semester 1-2020 [SEM-1-2020]
  • 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.
  • Books and other material wherever listed may be subject to change. Book lists relating to 'Preliminary reading', 'Recommended reading' and 'Textbooks' are, in most cases, available via the Booktopia Textbook Finder, which has the functionality to search by course code, course, ISBN and title, and may also be posted or available at the appropriate school's administrative offices. Where texts are listed in the unit description above, an asterisk (*) indicates that the book is available in paperback.