InstructorJ. Colchester
TypeOnline Course
Student Enrolled1
Certificate60% of quiz marks

Systems Ecology

This course is an introduction to the area of systems ecology, the application of systems theory to the study of ecosystems. Systems ecology uses mathematical modeling and computation to try and understand the networks of interactions between biotic and abiotic elements that give rise to the complex system of an ecology on all scales, from modeling the flow of energy within a microbial ecosystem to trying to understand the nonlinear dynamics of earth’s entire biosphere.
Taking an integrative and interdisciplinary approach it bridges many areas from physics and biology to the social sciences. Whereas traditional ecology has studied ecosystems with little reference to human society, systems ecology breaks down this barrier to include industrial ecologies as an integral part of earth’s systems in the era of the Anthropocene, when understanding the complex interaction between society and ecology is central to gaining traction on major contemporary environmental challenges.


This course is focused on providing you with the core principles and concepts in system ecology and is broken down into three main sections. In the first section we will be laying down the basics of systems theory in ecology as we talk about, energetics, thermodynamics, emergent integrative levels and ecosystem dynamics. Next, we will be looking at nonlinear systems theory within ecology, as we talk about feedback loops, how ecosystems self-organize, the nonlinear dynamics of abrupt ecosystem regime shifts, stability landscapes, and ecological networks.
The final section will be dedicated to socio-ecological systems, we will firstly talk about the new geological era of the Anthropocene and the rapidly changing relationship between ecosystem and society. We will look at the area of industrial ecology, models for interpreting socio-ecological systems, their adaptive capacity, and resilience, finally we will take an overview to the new area of sustainability science.


This course is a non-technical introduction, some background in the natural sciences or systems theory would be of advantage but not necessary as the course should be accessible to anyone with an interest in the subject.

Section 1Overview
Lecture 1Preliminaries
Lecture 2Systems Ecology Overview
Section 2Systems Ecology Principles
Lecture 3Thermodynamics
Lecture 4Ecological Systems
Lecture 5Thermodynamics of Ecosystems Development
Lecture 6Ecological Synergies
Lecture 7Emergence
Lecture 8Ecosystems Dynamics
Section 3Nonlinear Systems
Lecture 9Feedback Loops
Lecture 10Self-Organization
Lecture 11Regime Shifts
Lecture 12Ecological Networks
Section 4Socio-Ecological Systems
Lecture 13The Anthropocene
Lecture 14Anthropogenic Biomes
Lecture 15Industrial Ecology
Lecture 16Socio-Ecological Systems
Lecture 17Adaptive Capacity
Lecture 18Sustainability Science
Section 5Conclusion
Final Quiz