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Terrestrial ecosystems

This module considers the interactions between terrestrial organisms and their environments – that together form ecosystems, ranging from simple microbial communities to tropical rainforests. We could even consider Earth as a whole an ecosystem. The module will introduce you to key ecosystem concepts, and develop your understanding of the stability and resilience of ecosystems to disturbances such as disease and pollution. You’ll learn how ecosystem function depends on exchanges of water, energy and nutrients; and gain practical experience with current research techniques, including real-time monitoring and computer modelling. Finally, you’ll gain experience in writing professional-style reports on ecological systems.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module

Module code
S397
Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
30
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
OU SCQF FHEQ
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

Understanding the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems is the key to explaining how life on Earth has persisted in the past and how it might respond to change in the future. Ecosystem science takes a holistic view of organisms and the environment. The module reflects that view, illustrating the importance of interactions between the elements of ecosystems in determining the properties of the system as a whole.

The module is composed of four blocks that take you progressively from basic systems and processes up to the complexity of the global scale. An introductory block defines what the term ‘ecosystem’ means and presents a range of examples, describing their biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components. The second block addresses the cycling of energy, water, carbon and inorganic nutrients through these systems. You’ll reflect on how these flows control the type and number of organisms inhabiting the system, and how the presence of living organisms in turn affects the cycling of energy and matter. The third block explores the stability and resilience of ecosystems to both natural and human-induced disturbances such as fire, disease and environmental change. The final block looks at our planet as a whole to investigate the interdependence of the sub-systems within it.

Throughout, the module illustrates the four core concepts of definition, cycling, resilience and interdependence with examples from around the world, using the full range of online media. The module emphasises the nature of data obtained in environmental studies with its inherent variability. To understand our environment scientifically, manipulation and statistical interpretation of data are essential. It will introduce you to a number of statistical techniques, accessed via spreadsheets (including regression) to develop and enhance your professional skills in critically analysing statistical output.

Running through most of the module is a practical activity revolving around the monitoring and analysis of data on living trees. This will include basic observations of trees in your locality, and accessing and processing data from trees fitted with various monitoring devices on the OU campus and elsewhere. You’ll pool and jointly analyse data with other students on the module and gain assessment credit for reporting on your experiments.

Another theme of the module is the use of modelling. Predictive modelling of ecosystem response is now an essential tool in ecosystem science. The module illustrates different types of models, exploring their inputs, components and assumptions so you can correctly interpret the output. There are both spreadsheet-based ecological models and more complex Earth-system models that you’ll engage with to explore how different systems respond to external influences.

Vocational relevance

The module covers critical skills for environmental scientists, including key statistical analysis techniques, experience with real-time online monitoring systems and computer modelling approaches. You’ll develop report-writing skills through the assignments; the end-of-module assessment focuses on a professional-style environmental report demonstrating knowledge and understanding of ecosystem processes and functioning.

Outside the UK

Synchronous tutorials and communications could be difficult to deliver to students outside UK due to time differences. If you can’t attend the synchronous tutorials or make synchronous communications, you’ll have to use asynchronous alternative methods, such as watching recorded tutorials and emailing questions.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You’ll have a named tutor who will support your studies and mark and comment on your assignment work; you can also seek academic advice and guidance from them. Your tutor will offer support through email, telephone and online forum discussions. Additionally, there will be online tutorials. We’ll advertise tutorials before the module starts; S397 tutors will take them, but depending on the tutorial, not necessarily your own named tutor. We recommend you book online to attend these tutorials.

 

Assessment

You can find the assessment details for this module in the facts box.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

The module is assessed though TMAs and an end-of-module assessment involving activities integrated into the text and collected at the end of each block.

Future availability

Terrestrial ecosystems (S397) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school


    Entry requirements

    You must have passed one of the following:

    • Environmental science (S206 or SXF206), or the discontinued module S216
    • Questions in science (S111), Science:concepts and practice (S112), Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116), or one of the discontinued modules S103 or S104; plus an OU level 2 science module

    You’ll need to be familiar with basic mathematics and statistics concepts from OU level 2 environment modules, including the basics of probability, statistical distributions and hypothesis testing. You’ll also need to be familiar with basic concepts from OU level 1 biology, notably photosynthesis and respiration. You’ll need no specific knowledge of modelling.

    If you’re not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

    Register

    Start End Fee
    - - -

    No current presentation - see Future availability

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2027.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).


    For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time convenient to you.


    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2019. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 15/11/2018.

    What's included

    All study materials are available online, and are provided through the module website. Where possible, the materials will also be available in Microsoft Word format and as PDFs.

    The following elements are all thoroughly integrated into the online materials:

    • online text covering core ecosystem science concepts and techniques
    • graphical and audio–visual supporting materials
    • interactive modelling exercises using simple spreadsheet models
    • more complex computer modelling exercises
    • practical experiments with real-time ecosystem monitoring systems
    • designing and performing ecological investigations
    • collaborative work through small online groups
    • small and larger group tutorials
    • integrated assessment
    • professional-style report writing

    You will need

    A spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel or Adobe OpenOffice Calc

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones.

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S397 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.