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Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment

Study Ecology and Learn more about the world we live in with this fascinating course

Learn about living organisms, the places they live, and the relationships that occur between them and their environment. This course covers general principles of ecology, that can be applied anywhere on our planet.

Develop a foundation for understanding how the world functions, or for a career in environmental sciences, applied biology or land based industries.

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Study Ecology and learn more about the world we live in

Ecology is the study of the relationship between plants and animals and their physical and biological environment. In this course, you'll learn about different types of ecology, including:

  • behavioural ecology
  • population ecology
  • community ecology
  • ecosystem ecology

You'll also learn about several different biomes, large, naturally occurring community of flora or fauna adapted to particular conditions in which they occur. Biomes are influenced by latitude, elevation and associated moisture and temperature. Examples of these communities are tundras, deserts, wetlands, forests, include their associated freshwater communities, such as streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands. Terrestrial biomes vary geographically from the tropics through to the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

This course provides an important foundation for one very important area of environmental study. Useful for people in:

  • environmental management
  • agriculture
  • horticulture
  • research
  • education
  • wildlife and animal studies and welfare

Student Comment: "I love the course and the course material even though a bit of it seems to be a lot more in depth than I anticipated. I love it just the same as I'm learning lots. I just wish I had more time to do a lot more." Kim Stinton - studying Introduction to Ecology as part of an Advanced Certificate in Wildlife Management.

Duration:  100 hours


This subject has 7 lessons as follows:

  1. Ecosystems and Populations
    • Ecology
    • Types of Ecology: Behavioural Ecology, Population Ecology, Community Ecology and Ecosystem Ecology
    • Biomes   
    • Ecosystems (Energy and Nutrients)
    • The Food Web: Grazing Web, Detrital Web, Energy Flow and Imbalances   
    • Populations: Diversity, Habitat, Niche, and Growth Rates   
    • Interactions in the Community: Competition, Predation, Co-evolution, Succession and Climax Communities

  2. The Development of Life
    • Lifespan: Average Lifespan, Evolutionary Considerations on Lifespan and Theories on the Limits of Lifespan
    • Evolution: Introduction, What Evolution Means, Evidence of Organic Evolution, The Anatomical Argument, The Physiological Argument, The Paleontological Argument, The Embryological Argument, Steps in Organic Evolution, Multicellular Organisms, The Evolution of Sex, Differentiation and Integration
    • The origin of Vertebrates: The Emergence of Man, Factors in Organic Evolution, Germ Cells and Variations, Natural Selection, Population Genetics, The Synthetic Theory, Speciation, Genetic Drift, Trans-specific Evolution, Present Day Evolutionary Debate, Human Evolution and Evolutionary Patterns
  3. Animals, Parasites and Endangered Species
    • Animals in the Ecosystem: Animals in the Human Community
    • Animals   
    • Phylum and Classes of the Animal Kingdom: Vertebrates with Backbones, Vertebrates without Backbones, Protozoa, Origins and Relationships, Body Organisation, The Gut, Symmetry, Protosomia, Coelom and Deuterostomia
    • Summary of Phyla: The Parazoa, The Mesozoa, The Radiata, Phylum Coelenterata and Phylum Ctenophora
    • The Acoelomate Bilateria: Phylum Platyhelminthes, Phylum Nemertina
    • The Pseudocoelomates: Phylum Nematoda, Phylum Gastrotricha, Phylum Nematomorpha, Phylum Acanthocephala, Phylum Kinorhyncha, Phylum Rotifera, Phylum Priapulida, Phylum Entoprocta and Phylum Lucifera
    • Eucoelomates (The Tentaculata): Phylum Phoronida, Phylum Ectoprocta and Phylum Brachiopoda
    • Eucoelomates (The Trochozoa): Phylum Annelida, Phylum Sipuncula, Phylum Mollusca, Phylum Arthropoda
    • Eucoelomates (The Deuterostomia): Phylum Chaetognatha, Phylum Echinodermata, Phylum Hemichordata and Phylum Chordata
    • Parasites: Human Parasites and Parasitic Plants
    • Endangered Species: The Causes of Extinction and Efforts for Preservation
    • Case Study (Threatened Animal Species in Queensland, Australia): Birds, Mammals, Fish, Frogs, Butterflies and Reptiles
  4. Fungi, Tundra, Rainforests and Marshlands
    • Fungi: Introduction, Types of Fungi, The Structure of Fungi, The Reproduction of Fungi, The Physiology of Fungus, Poisoning by Fungi, The Ecology of Fungus, The Uses of Fungi, The Classification of Fungi (Oomycota, Zygomycota, Ascomycota)
    • Tundra: Introduction, The Climate and Land Formation, Plant Life on the Tundra
    • Rainforests: The Ecology, The Vegetation, Creatures of the Rainforest, The Canopy, The Under-storey, The Forest Floor and Clearing the Rainforest
    • Marshland: Introduction, Freshwater Marshes and Saltwater Marshes
  5. Mountains, Rivers and Deserts
    • Mountains: The Formation of Mountains, The Importance of Mountains, Volcanoes and Erosion
    • Rivers: The Formation of Rivers, Dams (Ponds), River Catchments, Urban Catchments, How can we clean up Stormwater
    • Reducing Pollutants
    • Sedimentation
    • Nutrients
    • Other Toxicants
    • Damming of Rivers
    • Deserts: Wind Systems, Land Formation, Plant Adaptations to the Desert, Animal Adaptations to the Desert, Human Impacts on Deserts, The Spreading Deserts
  6. Shallow Waters
    • Estuaries
    • Major Natural Processes Occurring in Coastal Environments: Climatological, Physical, Biological and Mixing Processes; Factors Influencing Estuaries; The Estuary as a Nursery; Estuaries and People
    • Rocky Shores: Threats to Rocky Shores and What Individuals Can Do
    • Sandy Shores: Threats to the Sandy Shore
    • Coral Reefs: Corals, The Composition of Coral Reefs
    • Types of Coral Reefs: Fringing Reefs, Barrier Reefs and Atolls
    • The Origin of Coral Reefs: Flora and Fauna on Atolls; Petroleum
  7. Ecological Problems
    • The Greenhouse Effect
    • Global Warming: Difference Between Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming, Climate Change, A Growing Awareness, Carbon Dioxide
    • International Efforts to Combat Climate Change: IPCC, UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, COP15 and The World Watch Institute
    • The Actual and Potential Effects: Global Temperature Rise, Sea Level Rise, Impacts on Weather Systems
    • Greenhouse Gases (GHG): Water Vapour, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Fluorocarbons
    • Ozone: The Ozone Layer, The Causes of Ozone Depletion, Aerosols, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Foam and Phasing out CFCs
    • The Effects of Ozone Depletion: Skin Cancers, Immune System Response, Impacts on Crops and Forests and Impacts on Marine Life
    • Poisons: Poisons in the Home and Other Household Poisons
    • Poisons on the Farm: Pesticides, Characteristics of Pesticides and Summary of Pesticides
    • Environmental and Health Impacts of Pesticides: Soil, Water Air Vegetation, Wildlife, Effects of Chemicals on Humans and Animals, Acute Poisoning, Chronic Poisoning and Different Types of Effects
    • Waste Material: Rubbish Dumps or Tips, Recycling, Plastics, Gas from Landfills and Domestic Waste

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Course Aims

  • Identify the components of an ecosystem and demonstrate how they interact
  • Discuss the basis of the Theory of Evolution and those elements of science which influenced the theory
  • Discuss the existence of animals in the ecosystem.
  • Discuss the presence of plant life in a range of ecological situations.
  • Discuss the ecological features of mountains, rivers and deserts.
  • Discuss the ecological features of shallow water regions and coral seas.
  • Discuss the ecological implications of human activities on the environment.

What you will do

  • Observe an ecosystem in your local area.  Identify the inhabitants of the ecosystem and their location in the food web of that system.
  • Compare the similarities and differences between the detrital web and the grazing web
  • Discuss what scientific discoveries the Theory of Evolution, both past and present, is based on.
  • List and explain the four arguments of evolution.
  • Define Natural Selection.
  • Discuss how genetics are related to evolution.
  • Go to an ecological environment (as natural as possible, with minimal human interference) and observe the plants and relationships that exist. 
  • Visit a local stream or river. Observe the condition of the stream, particularly the presence of indigenous vegetation and its affect on stream bank condition. Also look for evidence of human activity on the condition of the stream or river
  • Discuss, in your own words, the theories which have been advanced in the past regarding the formation of coral reefs.

Why Do We Need to Understand Ecology?

All life on earth is connected -animals, plants, humans. The way in which we are interconnected is critical to our long term survival. When these interconnections are not sustained properly; a species runs the risk of declining in numbers, and possibly even becoming extinct.

Biomes are a large, naturally occurring community of flora or fauna adapted to particular conditions in which they occur. Biomes are influenced by latitude, elevation and associated moisture and temperature. Examples of these communities are tundras, deserts, wetlands, forests, include their associated freshwater communities, such as streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands. Terrestrial biomes vary geographically from the tropics through to the Arctic and Antarctic regions.  

The term biome is used by some ecologists, but others may call these broad units of vegetation "plant formations".  The major difference between the two terms is that biomes include the associated animal life; however, major biomes are identified by the name of the dominant forms of plant life.

Some ecologists also consider marine environments to be biomes which include:

  • open ocean
  • littoral (shallow water) regions
  • benthic (bottom) regions
  • rocky shores
  • sandy shores
  • estuaries
  • tidal marshes

Threats to Rocky Shores

There are a number of factors that can be very beneficial to a harmonious rocky shore ecosystem, but, as exposed to environmental or human factors as they are, there are a number of challenges these environments must face. Among the most commonly known threats a rocky shore environment may encounter are: 

  • Oil pollution from ships in distress or ships that flush out their bunkers while passing off the coast. The flushing of bunkers is illegal, in the waters of most countries, and usually carries heavy penalties. Unfortunately proving liability is very hard.
  • River pollution brought to the shores by rivers. Sewage in the river can carry diseases such as cholera, which can be taken up by shellfish. If people later eat these shellfish, they can become infected.
  • Sewage outfalls. In many countries raw or partially treated sewage is disposed of directly to the sea. This can be spread by sea currents and wave action onto shorelines.
  • Algal blooms caused as a result of excess nutrients in the water, often discharged from nearby rivers can seriously affect local marine organisms. Shellfish may take in toxic algae that can harm animals, including humans that eat the shellfish, while heavy algal blooms may reduce dissolved oxygen levels in the sea water carried onto the rocky shore, seriously affecting marine organisms.
  • Many rocky shores are subject to indiscriminate bait, shell and rock pool life collecting.  These activities can rapidly deplete a rocky shore of organisms, and can seriously affect local food chains, which may further affect other organisms.
  • Foot traffic and dislodgement of rocks, by fishermen, tourists, etc. can also cause extensive damage.



Any Questions?

Our Ecology tutors are more than happy to help with any questions about the course, so please do not hesitate to contact us.

Click here to contact an Ecology Tutor.



Courses can be started anytime from anywhere in the world!

Meet some of our academics

Alison Pearce (general)P.G.Cert. Ed., M.Ecotourism, S.Sc. (Hons). Alison has held many positions including: University Lecturer, Writer, Quality Assurance Manager, Research Technician, Vet Nurse and stockwoman. Over 30 years industry experience, mostly in Australia and the UK.. Alison originally graduated with an honors degree in science from university and beyond that has completed post graduate qualifications in education and eco-tourism. She has managed veterinary operating theatre, responsible for animal anaesthesia, instrument preparation, and assistance with surgical techniques and procedures.
Dr. Gareth PearceGraduated from the University of Nottingham in 1982 with a B.Sc.(Hons) in Animal Science. Between 82 and 85 worked as Research Assistant and Demonstator in Animal Science at the University of Leeds. Over more than 30 years he has furthered his studies, obtaining eight significant university qualifications including degrees in Veterinary Science, Wildlife Conservation and Animal Behaviour. Gareth has significant teaching experience around the world as a faculty member at eight different universities including Associate Professor at Murdoch University and Director of Studies in Veterinary Science at Cambridge University. He has over 100 prestigious research papers published, and enjoys an outstanding international reputation in the fields of animal and veterinary science.
Yvonne Sharpe (Horticulturist)Started gardening in 1966, studied a series of horticulture qualifications throughout the 1980's and 90's, culminating in an RHS Master of Horticulture. Between 89 and 1994, she worked teaching in horticultural therapy. Founded the West Herts Garden Association in 1990 and exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show in 1991. In 1994, Yvonne joined the staff at Oaklands College, and between 1996 and 2000 was coordinator for all Amenity Horticulture courses at that college. Since leaving Oakland she has been active as a horticultural consultant, retail garden centre proprietor and sessional lecturer (across many colleges in southern England). In 2000, she also completed a Diploma in Management.

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