Global Ecology

The objective of this course is to explore our current understanding of how humans are affecting the functioning of ecosystems and how changes in ecosystems would affect the provisioning of ecosystem services and human well-being. The two primary drivers of ecosystem change are human population growth and increased consumption per capita. These drivers affect the Earth’s cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and water, as well as regional and global-scale changes in biodiversity and climate. The course includes an in-depth discussion of scenarios for next 50 and 100 years, which articulate costs and benefits of alternative development pathways in terms of climate change, food production, clean water and biodiversity. Scenarios of change in biodiversity lead to the topic of the consequences of biodiversity change for the functioning of ecosystems from the point of view of their productivity and stability. The course discusses alterations and interactions among major biogeochemical cycles. Basic understanding of human impacts on ecosystem functioning are complemented with discussions of potential applied solutions to environmental problems. The course includes classes on alternative biofuels and their impacts on the environment encompassing their effects from greenhouse emissions to nitrogen pollution and biodiversity loss.