Ecology Studies - Ecosystem Ecology

The free online course Ecology Studies – Ecosystem Ecology provides detailed information on the modelling of ecosystems, energy transfer and biogeochemical cycles. The course begins by introducing you to the three broad categories of ecosystems based on their general environment: freshwater, ocean water, and terrestrial ecosystems. You will learn more about the resources within these ecosystems which organisms compete for such as organic material, sunlight, and mineral nutrients. You will learn to identify the various critical factors influencing community dynamics such as the components of its physical and geographic environment. The course then introduces you to how organisms acquire energy and how that energy is passed from one organism to another through food webs and their constituent food chains. You will gain an understanding of the different trophic levels, such as producers, consumers and decomposers, and how energy transfers affect ecosystem structures and dynamics. You will also learn about how the structure of ecosystems can be visualized and modelled with ecological pyramids to show the relative amounts of various parameters (such as number of organisms, energy, and biomass) across trophic levels. Finally, you will be introduced to the biogeochemical cycle, which is the process of recycling inorganic matter between living organisms and their environment. The six most common elements associated with organic molecules are covered explaining how mineral nutrients are cycled from one living organism to another, and between the biotic and abiotic world. You will also gain an understanding of how human activities have impacted these biogeochemical cycles and the potential consequences for society. The course will be ideal for students or professionals who want to develop a career in ecosystem research or for those who simply want to learn more about ecosystem structures, how energy is transferred between trophic levels, and how human activities have caused major disturbances to these cycles. This course will be of great interest to anyone who would like to learn more about ecosystem types and categories, the transfer of energy between trophic levels, through food webs and food chains, and how mineral nutrients are cycled through ecosystems.


To qualify for your official ALISON Diploma, Certificate or PDF you must study and complete all modules and score 80% or more in each of the course assessments. A link to purchase your Diploma certificate will then appear under the My Certificates heading of your My Account page.

Learning Outcome: 

After completing this course you will be able to:

  • Describe the basic types of ecosystems on Earth;
  • Explain the methods that ecologists use to study ecosystem structure and dynamics;
  • Identify the different methods of ecosystem modelling;
  • Differentiate between food chains and food webs and recognize the importance of each;
  • Explain how organisms acquire energy in a food web and in associated food chains;
  • Explain how the efficiency of energy transfers between trophic levels affects ecosystem structure and dynamics;
  • Discuss trophic levels and how ecological pyramids are used to model them;
  • Define the biogeochemical cycles of water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur;
  • Explain how human activities have impacted these cycles and the potential consequences for Earth.
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