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School of Environment, Education and Development

Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry
BSc Geography with International Study

Study a course tailored to you at the university ranked fourth in the UK for Geography (Guardian University Guide).

BSc Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Green Planet: Plant Ecology and Global Change

Unit code GEOG20291
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Topics to be covered in lectures (10 x 2hr) include:

1)      Introduction to the Green Planet

2)      Origins and evolution of plant life on Earth

3)      What determines the nature of vegetation in different places?

4)      Vegetation dynamics and community ecology

5)      Plants as drivers of global change: a deep-time perspective

6)      Vegetation-climate feedbacks: deserts, grasslands and forests

7)      Photosynthesis and the carbon cycle     

8)      Vulnerability of ecosystems in a changing world

9)      Conserving the Green Planet

10)   Designing ecological experiments and analysing ecological data 


The lectures will be supported by:

  • a visit to the Manchester Museum to explore the collection of fossils covering plant evolution
  • article discussion seminars to support and enhance lecture material
  • practical-based seminar activities to develop skills and critical awareness of research methodology


Course total: 30 hours (20 lecture hours, 10 seminar hours) + independent reading and study


  • to understand the main factors that influence the growth and distribution of plant species at local to global scales
  • to appreciate the role of the biosphere in the shaping of the Earth's climate
  • to explore vegetation-climate interactions at a range of spatial and temporal scales
  • to assess the vulnerability of plants and ecosystems to anthropogenic impacts and climate change
  • to develop awareness of methodological approaches in ecology and biogeography

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course the students should:

  • have an understanding of the main factors that influence the distribution and composition of vegetation at local to global scales including climate, soils and ecological interactions
  • have an understanding of how plants influence the local, regional and global climate, through modification of land surfaces and the exchanges of energy and gases between plants and the atmosphere
  • be able to evaluate the implications of climate change for plant diversity and the role of global vegetation in future climate change scenarios
  • be able to assess critically the variety of techniques and information used to elucidate vegetation-climate interactions, including physiological experiments in controlled environments, observational studies based on long–term data sets, field manipulation experiments, historical records, and modelling
  • have gained practical experience in techniques of research design and data analysis in plant ecology

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be delivered via lectures and seminar classes, including a museum visit and practical activities. The lectures will include time for interaction via class discussion, consolidation sessions and revision exercises. Students are expected to read widely to support the classes and undertake the support activities as instructed for each class. Seminars are an integral part of the course and students will be expected to work in small groups to prepare materials for presentation and discussion. Learning will be supported via the course Blackboard site, which will provide access to course materials and wider resources in the areas of biogeography and ecology.

Assessment methods

This course will be assessed on the basis of:

  • An individual coursework essay (40%) not exceeding 2000 words, on one of the following topics: “Compare and contrast ‘ecoregions’ and ‘anthropogenic biomes’ and evaluate their merits as classification schemes for the vegetation cover of the Earth.” OR “Define vegetation succession and discuss why it is an important process in the context of current global change”.
  • A 2-hour exam (60%) including multiple choice questions, short answer questions and an essay question. 

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • verbal feedback through discussion and Q&A during and at the end of lectures
  • extensive verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours or by appointment
  • detailed, constructive written feedback on coursework and exam

Recommended reading

Sample reading list

There is no single core text, but the following are highly relevant for key concepts and themes:

  • Adams, J. 2007. Vegetation-Climate Interaction: How Vegetation Makes the Global Environment. Chichester: Springer-Praxis. [available as e-book]
  • Beerling, D.  2007. The Emerald Planet: How plants changed Earth's history. Oxford: OUP.
  • Kent, M. 2011. Vegetation Description and Data Analysis. Chichester: Wiley.
  • Keddy, P.A. 2007. Plants and Vegetation: Origins, Processes, Consequences. Cambridge: CUP


Students will be expected to read articles from the primary research literature, including journals such as:

  • Trends in Ecology and Evolution
  • Journal of Ecology
  • Journal of Vegetation Science

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
William Fletcher Unit coordinator

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