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Unit information: The Farm as a Natural System: Ecological Interactions and Agricultural Intensity in 2014/15

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Unit name The Farm as a Natural System: Ecological Interactions and Agricultural Intensity
Unit code BIOLM0013
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Memmott
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

The intensification of arable agriculture over the last 50 years has been associated with substantial losses of biodiversity, and there is considerable concern that intensive agriculture is incompatible with the conservation of biodiversity. At the same time there is an increasing appreciation that biodiversity can be managed and exploited by humans to provide key agricultural services such as pest control, pollination and water management. The aims of this unit are: firstly, to introduce the interactions that occur between managed species (crops and livestock) and the environment, for example through pollination, pest/disease control and water and light regimes; and secondly, to explore how best to manage these interactions in order to maximize production whilst minimizing environmental impacts, looking particularly for win-win scenarios whereby both the farmer and the environment benefit.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Describe the concept and nature of ecosystem services.
  2. Outline the key threats to ecosystem services in agro-ecosystems.
  3. Explain how ecosystem services can be conserved, managed and utilized by farmers.
  4. Describe how ecosystem services can interact with each other both positively and negatively.
  5. Demonstrate an understanding of how the value of ecosystem services are calculated and how their value can be demonstrated to farmers and policy makers.

Teaching Information

Lectures (12 hours), field trip (5 hours).

Assessment Information

Formative: students present knowledge gained on the field trip to be evaluated via Blackboard by peers and academics.

Summative: a two-hour written exam (100%).

Reading and References

  • Jackson DL & Jackson LL (2002). The farm as natural habitat: reconnecting food systems with ecosystems. Island Press.
  • Tscharntke T & Hawkins BA (2009). Multitrophic level interactions. Cambridge University Press.
  • Swihard RK & Moore JE (2004). Conserving biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. Purdue University Press.
  • Klein AM, Vaissiere BE, Cane JH, Steffan-Dewenter I, Cunningham SA, Kremen C & Tscharntke T (2007). Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274: 303-313.
  • Jarchow ME & Liebman M (2011). Maintaining multifunctionality as landscapes provide ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9: 262–262.
  • Wall R, Rose H, Ellse LS & Morgan ER (2011). Livestock ectoparasites: Integrated management in a changing climate. Veterinary Parasitology 180: 82-89.