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Second semester
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Learning outcomes of the course unit

The course aims at:

- reviewing principles, concepts, uncertainties and controversies in the study of ecological systems

- understanding physical, chemical, and biological factors governing ecosystem dynamics

- learning how ecosystem processes are analysed from a scientific perspective

- increasing the awareness about human impacts at local and global scales and their effects on ecosystems

- providing basic knowledge on management and recovery of ecosystems

- becoming familiar with scientific literature

- putting together different knowledges, facing complexity, expressing judgements

- developing discussion, communication and critical analysis skills.


The module of "Analysis of Ecological systems" is complementary to that of "Ecology" taught by Professor Pierluigi Viaroli. The two modules are evaluated independently. Admission to the exam is conditional on the passing of the "Ecology" exam. The final overall evaluation will be the weighted average of the two scores.

Course contents summary

The objective of the course is to show the students the most relevant scientific approaches that have contributed to delineating important concepts and theories on ecological systems. Structural, trophic and biological aspects will be examined. Patterns and processes will be further analysed and discussed in the light of fundamental paradigms and theories that emerged in the last decades. A particular unit of the course is dedicated to the analysis of biodiversity and to its role in ecosystem functioning.

Course contents

General part (paying particular attention to knowledge and understanding and applying knowledge and understanding)
Principles and approaches of ecology. Complex adaptive systems and "balance of nature": myth or reality? The paradigm of complexity. Recent developments of ecology in the study of pristine and heavily stressed ecosystems. Order and chaos in ecological systems. Methods of analysis. Space and time scales. Scaling processes in ecology. Disturbance and succession. Resilience and resistance. Ecosystem regime shifts. Predictivity and reliability of ecological models. Definitions of biodiversity. Space and time patterns of biological diversity. Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Ecosystem services. Biogeography and ecology: two views of one world. Conservation ecology. Ecosystem management and recovery.

In-class exercise (paying particular attention to applying knowledge and understanding and making judgements)
The equilibrium theory of island biogeography by McArthur and Wilson (1967).

Field work: introductory lectures (paying particular attention to applying knowledge and understanding)
- Ecological indicators and indices. Assessment of ecological functionality through integration of abiotic and biotic factors. Design, application and interpretation of the River Functionality Index.
- Long-term ecological research: analysis of ecosystems’ dynamics and evolution.
- Ecological characteristics and role of small water bodies in biodiversity conservation and provision of ecosystem services.

Case studies and field experiences in protected areas and in ecosystems affected by human impact.

In-class presentation of students’ results from field experiences (paying particular attention to communication skills).

At the conclusion of the course, students will find the detail of topics covered at each class and their corresponding slide presentations on the Elly platform (

Recommended readings

Text book
Pusceddu A., G. Sarà, P. Viaroli. 2020. Ecologia. UTET Università.

Reference material
Books and manuals

Quaderni Habitat Ministero dell’Ambiente

Siligardi M., S. Bernabei, C. Cappelletti, E. Chierici et al., 2007. I.F.F. 2007. Indice di Funzionalità Fluviale. Manuale APAT/2007, 325 pp.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Journal articles
At the end of the course, the teacher will provide the students with a list of papers cited during lectures to be used for in-depth studies on a voluntary basis.

PAST: Paleontological statistics software package for education and data analysis.

Teaching methods

Lectures on the classical topics of Ecology also using multimedia tools. Analysis of case studies and focus on theories and principles that are relevant in understanding the development of the ecological discipline. Field activities.
Any changes to the teaching methods due to the protracted COVID-19 emergency will be communicated before the course starts.

Assessment methods and criteria

After completing this course students are able to understand and analyze the structure and main characteristics of ecosystems and related processes. The exam is organised in a written test composed of closed-ended and open-ended questions on topics covered during the course, as well as questions on field activities. Each question has a different score, which is clearly indicated on the answer sheet. The exam is passed with a score of at least 18. The maximum possible score is 35; score greater than or equal to 32 corresponds to 30 cum laude. Admission to the exam is conditional on the passing of the "Ecology" exam. The final overall evaluation will be the average of the two scores (module “Ecology” and module “Ecosystems analysis”). Extra marks may be awarded for specific activities, such as in-class presentation and discussion of case studies, participation in workshops/seminars, etc. Students who wants to improve their score resulting from the written tests may ask to take an oral exam on two selected topics among those covered by the course, one for each module. A negative evaluation may result in a decrease in the final score.
Any changes to the exam procedures due to the continuation of the COVID-19 emergency will be communicated in due time.

Other informations

Attendance will be taken during lectures and field activities at various times. Students unable to attend classes because of legitimate reasons should notify the teacher and make the appropriate arrangements directly with him.
Lectures are held in Italian, but Erasmus/foreign students can complete the course by choosing the “book exam” option: this means that these students can read and study the literature specifically agreed on with the professor and then take a written examination in English.