Life on Earth relies on the functional capability of ecosystems. The human race, however, has decreased the species richness (biodiversity), degraded the habitats and changed the climate of our planet. All these threaten the stability of plant and animal communities. Therefore, it is crucial to understand these threats and provide solutions as how to ecosystems can be sustainably managed. The aim of the course is to witness, study and gain interdisciplinary knowledge about biodiversity loss, habitat degradation and the changes of the biogeochemical cycle. Biodiversity, habitat, biogeochemical cycles and climate change are strongly linked. Biodiversity provides food and habitat and provides a structure for ecosystem functions such as energy, water or the bio-geochemical cycle. One of the most important cycles is the carbon dioxide cycle. Carbon dioxide is crucial for plant growth and to stabilise the climate, yet increasing concentration due to anthropogenic emission causes climate change.
During the course we will gain not only theoretical but also practical and empirical knowledge about biodiversity, ecosystems and about their functions and threats. Through a field survey in a forest we will assess biodiversity, habitat structure and the basic carbon cycle. The survey will be followed by independent analysis and report-writing. Based on collected data and group discussion, possible solutions should be outlined in a local and global context for a sustainable management of ecosystems. Participants will learn to think in interdisciplinary terms, execute simple ecological calculations and write scientific reports based on their findings. Skills for developing methods to asses biodiversity, study functions of ecosystems and provide possible solutions for ecological problems will be gained. The module is not only useful for future courses in plant ecology and other environmental aspects, but will also provide insights relevant for becoming an environmental engineer, natural scientist or ecological economist.