Free course

Introduction to ecosystems

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Gain an understanding of the natural world and how the web of life works, with illustrations from around the world.

This course is designed to be studied for about 2 hours per week over 6 weeks. As there is no start and end date you can study in your own time and your own pace.

Throughout this free non-accredited course you will be considering the following overarching questions:

  • What is the importance of understanding ecosystems?
  • How do they work?
  • How crucial is their conservation?

If we don't grasp why ecosystems function, it becomes harder to determine possible reasons for when they don't, and makes it difficult to identify possible environmental threats to humans. In this course you will discover how organisms are linked together by complex interrelationships, how such links are studied and how the physical properties of a particular habitat interact with the organisms that inhabit it. Using case studies, you will come to learn how knowledge of ecosystems leads to understanding of their individual importance, and how they can be preserved.

This course is intended for those with an interest in natural history, conservation or the environment and does not require any previous experience of studying these subjects.

This OpenLearn science course is produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education, the educational arm of The Exilarch's Foundation.



Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • define an ecosystem
  • understand the different ways in which a system can be analysed
  • use your knowledge of the key features of ecosystems to determine interrelationships between organisms in a simple ecosystem
  • describe adaptations shown by animals to extreme desert and polar environments
  • discuss how small organisms in marine systems contribute to energy flow through ecosystems
  • explain how humans impact on three examples of fragile ecosystems.

First Published: 04/06/2014

Updated: 18/12/2019

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