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Introduction to ecosystems - More free resources from The Open University

Updated Thursday, 12th September 2013
Discover the relationships between living organisms and gain an understanding of the natural world and how the web of life works by exploring ecosystems.  

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Woodlands What is an ecosystem? There are two schools of thought: one that applies a geographical definition, such as a Rainforest ecosystem or Arctic ecosystem; the other one that defines it as a set of organisms and abiotic components, linked by processes of energy transfer and cycling of materials.

To help you answer this question, we have collated a range of free content for you to take your learning further with more in-depth free courses and features on this fascinating subject. 

If you follow our free Introduction to Ecosystems course on FutureLearn, throughout this course you will be considering these overarching questions: What is the importance of understanding ecosystems, how do they work and how crucial is their conservation? In week six you'll look at issues surrounding large scale managment and conservation concluding with a study of the Galápagos archipelago World Heritage Site. 

As you work through each week of the course, stop by OpenLearn to find articles, podcasts and plenty more so you can explore that week's topics in more depth.

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The Open University offers a range of degree courses and modules in Environmental Science as well as an MSc in Environmental Management.

Not ready for that step? Take a look at our free OpenLearn courses on Environmental Science

Before you start the course

Dig deeper into week six

Week five...

In week five you will look at how humans affect ecosystems. Early humans were components of the ecosystem in which they evolved, however modern humans spread across a range of systems that differ from those in which the species originated.

Week four...

In week four you will learn about the smaller organisms at the base of food chains in simple and complex ecosystems. Then you will look for organisms in your own area and identify them using the iSpot community.

Week three...

In week three you will see that studying ecosystems in the most inhospitable places reveals a range of adaptations to survival. Desert or polar ecosystems seem remote, but their links with other ecosystems are very important.

Week two...

In week two you will learn about the adaptations of animals to the challenges posed by different types of ecosystems. You will also learn that ecosystems comprise more than relationships between organisms in the habitat. They are affected by factors such as light, water, carbon dioxide and nutrients and, of course, human activity.

Week one...

In week one you will learn that there are different ways that an ecosystem can be defined and examine the core concept of an ecosystem through the example of a rock pool. You will also learn how to study ecosystems by looking at a case study of Wicken Fen.


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