ENVR E-140: Fundamentals of Ecology for Sustainable Ecosystems


  • Professor: Mark Leighton
  • Term: Fall
  • Days: T
  • Time: 8:00-10:00
  • School: Harvard Extension School
  • Course ID: 12779

Conserving and managing biodiversity and ecosystem services in diverse landscapes across the globe is a major sustainability challenge of this century. Solutions critically rest on fundamental concepts and principles in ecology. This course adopts an unusual, holistic approach by embedding understanding and integration of these principles through a series of ecosystem case studies focused on desert, savanna and mountain ecosystems, wetlands and other aquatic systems, boreal, temperate, and tropical forests, and agroecosystems. These ecosystems exemplify different challenges, but similar ecological processes at work for successful management, whether the goal is protection of natural systems and biodiversity, ecological restoration, or maintaining ecosystem services in agricultural and other human-dominated landscapes. Through this approach, the fundamental topics covered in typical ecology courses are exemplified. The historical, evolutionary, and ecological processes determining the distribution of ecosystems, habitats, and species are introduced. Evolutionary processes responsible for the adaptations of individuals are examined to understand the diversity of species and their features. Ecological processes of competition, predation, disease, and mutualism help explain the functioning of biological communities and larger ecosystems. Among other activities, teams of students conduct background research on specific ecosystem sites to understand the ecological, economic, sociocultural, and multistakeholder context of sustainability challenges and integrated solutions. The course features an optional Saturday field trip.

Note: Writing-intensive course. Students can attend in person on campus, participate live online at the time the class meets via web conference, or watch the recorded video on demand. Videos are available within 24 hours of the lecture.