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91541 Monitoring Ecological Variability

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2019 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Science: Life Sciences
Credit points: 6 cp
Result type: Grade and marks

There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.

Description

With increasing pressures exerted on the environment and its land, marine and freshwater resources, societal demands for more quantitative, geospatial, timely and accurate information on the functioning and sustainability of Earth's ecosystems have become more prominent. There is a recognised need for and importance of geospatial data and long-term monitoring protocols for evaluating environmental change and for improved understanding and management of complex ecological systems. Geospatial data layers, ranging from Earth observation satellites to geo-coded information from sensor, survey, and camera systems are fundamental for objective detection of long-term changes, and evaluation of environmental responses to disturbance, climate change, natural disasters and resource management practices.

This subject introduces students to geospatial ecological monitoring methods and approaches for characterising changing environments, including: terrestrial, coastal, marine, and urban ecological systems; phenology–climate interactions; environmental health; biodiversity; disturbance.; and resource management This subject emphasises multi-scale, geospatial monitoring programs involving field sensor networks, tower-based measurements, and satellite remote sensing.

Students study and evaluate existing national and international ecological monitoring programs including TERN and IMOS. Topics and practicals cover change detection, time series and trend analysis, and visualisation techniques for mapping and monitoring dynamic environments at local, regional and global scales.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

Upon successful completion of this subject students should be able to:

01. search, identify, and access ecological time series data from in-situ, climate, environmental, and satellite sensors
02. characterise ecological change and partition the dominant drivers of change (climate, management, disturbance)
03. quantitatively diagnose time series data using statistical software packages to run trend analysis, anomalies, and memory effects, along with consideration of uncertainties
04. design an effective ecological monitoring program based on contemporary stakeholder/ societal decision making needs, and knowledge learned on strengths and weaknesses of current and failed monitoring programs
05. conduct a change detection analyses on satellite imagery using spatial analyses software and land cover science principles
06. formulate questions and test experimental hypotheses of ecological systems, including sensitivity analysis, resilience, and tipping points using long-term data streams
07. derive seasonality metrics of ecological functioning and relate shifts in seasonality to climate and other forcing variables

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject also contributes specifically to the development of following course intended learning outcomes:

  • A significant and advanced understanding, and contextualization of the nature, practice & application of the chosen science discipline with respect to recent developments or a professional practice. (1.0)
  • A well-developed understanding of, and experience in, the Scientific Method of knowledge acquisition, deduction, inference and induction. This encompasses complex problem solving, critical thinking and analysis of existing knowledge, skills and attributes, the ability to synthesise information/ideas/perspectives, and the ability to discover new understandings. (2.0)
  • The ability to acquire, develop, employ and integrate a range of high level technical, practical and professional skills, in appropriate and ethical ways within a professional context, autonomously and collaboratively and across a range of disciplinary and professional areas. (3.0)
  • The capacity to engage in extensive, critical reflection upon major aspects of current knowledge, theories and/or practices, and critically evaluate the implications of research findings, including their validity and the potential for contributing to new knowledge, application and practice. (4.0)
  • An awareness of the role of science within a global culture and willingness to contribute to the shaping of community views on complex issues where the methods and findings of science are relevant. (5.0)
  • An understanding of, and highly developed skills in, the different forms of communication - writing, reading, speaking, listening - including visual and graphical, within science and beyond, and the ability to apply these appropriately, effectively and professionally for different audiences. (6.0)

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

1. Disciplinary knowledge and its appropriate application

By nature ecological variability is a highly interdisciplinary topic encompassing biologic, meteorologic, physical, and environmental principals. You will learn about these disciplinary topics through thematic readings and lecture/ video material as preparation for each computer-based practical. Learning of these skills will be assessed through the practical scientific reports and presentations.

This foundation will enable you to better understand the rapidly evolving field of environmental monitoring and geospatial analysis, where multidisciplinary knowledge is becoming increasingly important. This subject will prepare you to draw connections across broad fields of knowledge and relate this knowledge to complex real-world situations so that you can diagnose and assess ecosystem changes, disturbances, and their management. Learning of these skills will be assessed through the practical scientific reports and discussion sessions.

2. An Inquiry-oriented approach

Experimental Design: In this subject, you will be tasked to formulate environmental questions, search appropriate data streams and time series data, and perform problem solving analyses in the context of actual ecologic environments. Your training in handling of these complex datasets will help you to evaluate and critique ecological monitoring programs, including their assumptions, limitations, and usefulness. The breadth of disciplines represented in this subject will enable you to integrate and synthesize knowledge from a range of sources and environments.

Scientific Method: The process of formulating and successfully testing a scientific hypothesis is learned through the practice of guided exercises of increasing complexity. You will be trained to present your results professionally using applicable visualisations involving geospatial imagery, time series graphs, tables, and illustrations. Moreover, the methods used and described on the written reports and oral presentations will be of sufficient detail to be reproducible.

Critical Thinking: The use of field data and satellite data will introduce you to multi-scale complexities and approaches in ecological monitoring and to recognize the strengths and weaknesses associated with monitoring at each scale.

Problem-Based Learning: The practicals in this subject are structured to enable you to integrate individual/group findings and results with those of the entire class, make comparisons, and conduct cross-biome, and cross-scale, analyses. This is followed with integration of class results for synthesis and practical report writing. The scientific approach, hypothesis testing, and problem solving are assessed in a final practical report.

3. Professional skills and their appropriate application

Personal skills: The subject coordinator and peers will provide immediate feedback during presentations, you should engage on different levels by giving, receiving, and acting upon questions and comments.

Strategy Development Skills: Towards the completion of the final report you will have to account for efficient and timely project management skills, as well as effective planning and prioritization of tasks.

4. The ability to be a Lifelong Learner

Reflection / make effective judgments about one’s own work: You will be required to apply the techniques learned during the practical sessions and lectures to the selection of an individual project based on your professional interests (independent thinking). You will drive the questions and show a profound understanding of the concepts learnt in class, information literacy, willingness to learn and curiosity reflected as interest to learn beyond the given instructions.

5. Engagement with the needs of society

The course, by the way of presentations, reports and discussions, will provide the opportunity to learn how to present the complexities of Geospatial Ecological Monitoring methods and results, to a lay audience. Thus, strengthening your understanding of the role of scientific outcomes into shaping and influencing government policies and community ideas and culture. Ability to communicate complex findings to a lay audience will be assessed through the oral presentations. We will discuss how research outcomes could be interpreted and misinterpreted by researchers, governments, industry and the general public.

6. Communication skills

Audience skills: Oral communication skills are vital to scientists, particularly those required to interpret complex data to a wider audience with little background knowledge. In this subject you will make short presentations of your experimental data, analyses, and results. Personal Skills: The subject coordinator and peers will provide feedback after each oral presentation, helping to inform on how to improve. This will help develop your communication skills and ability to explain complex issues to the classroom. As the audience you will be active listening and by example will develop your own argument style (logical thinking / delivery / information).

Personal Skills: Good written communication is fundamental to any scientific career. Written skills are assessed with five short write-ups (two of them completed in class) and one final practical reports. Your results will be integrated with the class results, to potentially broaden your scientific understanding. You will be assessed on your written skills and ability to scientifically describe, interpret, synthesize, and discuss these research results.

7. Initiative and innovative ability

Initiative: You will be encouraged to independently evaluate monitoring protocols and data sets with a healthy scepticism. Innovation: You will also be provided the opportunity to develop your own questions and hypotheses to test using your data sets, as well as explore multiple forcing variables from which to assess monitoring trends and ecosystem responses. These innovative themes are further encouraged through the active participation and open discussion of current research in monitoring ecosystems. This attribute will be assessed as part of the criteria for the oral presentations and discussion in class.

Teaching and learning strategies

In this Subject you will learn via a combination of lecture and video materials and computer-based practicals encompassing the topics of ecologic monitoring and geospatial analysis. There will also be some assignments, reports and discussions. The lectures are given by the subject coordinator and occasional guest lecturer and encompass all subject materials. This is supplemented with some recommended reading, video, and online reference materials, along with your own independent reading. The lectures are delivered in 2 hour lecture blocks each week. This Subject has a major practical component in which you will have hands on experience in analysing and interpreting a variety of in-situ, tower, and satellite image time series and spatial data sets that cover the major themes of the Subject lectures. The practicals consist of weekly 2 hour computer lab sessions, that include presentations and in-depth discussions of your results.

In this Subject, the focus is on putting the scientific method into practice as you learn how and where to obtain data and imagery from different databases and networks; develop questions and hypotheses based on data you have accessed; analyse the data using professional and open access software packages; and synthesise your findings into presentations and reports. You will work towards the ability to independently analyse a range of environmental variables across a variety of sites. As you present and discuss your results and those of your peers, a ‘global’ view of the data will emerge, developing a level of maturity in your critical skills and understanding of ecological monitoring and variability. By the end of the Subject, you should have developed a high level of autonomy in applying the skills to address any question relating to ecological monitoring and ecosystem change.

Content (topics)

You will learn about leading topics on environmental disturbance and change detection, the geospatial complexity of ecological systems, time series analysis and trends, fundamental concepts of ecological monitoring, and a wide array of monitoring applications from plot-level, tower instruments, and satellite imagery. The Subject starts with basic principles, followed by field-level monitoring data sets, tower-based fluxes of whole canopy & landscape dynamics, and satellite remote sensing data for large scale integration studies, change detection, disturbance monitoring, and climate variability- ecosystem responses.

Case studies are included of how various ecological systems behave in space and time as well as their responses to pulse climatic events, seasonal controls, and inter-annual variability. Case studies will focus on Australian and global terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems.

Assessment

Assessment task 1: Quizzes/ exam

Intent:

To synthesise subject readings, lectures, and assignments on basic concepts and physical principles behind ecological monitoring.

This assessment task contributes to the development of the following graduate attributes:

1. Disciplinary knowledge and its appropriate application

2. An Inquiry-oriented approach (problem-based learning, critical thinking)

Objective(s):

This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

02, 04, 05 and 06

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

1.0 and 2.0

Type: Quiz/test
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 20%
Criteria:

Correctness of answers;

Soundness of interpretations and conclusions;

Accuracy of calculations, plots, and other presentation.

Assessment task 2: Oral Presentations

Intent:

To synthesise and present results, conduct and communicate practical-based and take home experiments, and effectively interpret results based on the weekly practical assignments.

This assessment task contributes to the development of the following graduate attributes:

1. Disciplinary knowledge and its appropriate application

2. An inquiry-oriented approach

5. Engagement with the needs of society

6. Communication skills

Objective(s):

This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

02, 03 and 06

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

1.0, 2.0, 5.0 and 6.0

Type: Laboratory/practical
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 15%
Criteria:

Experimental design

Problem solving approach

Accuracy of calculations and plots, and other presentation

Understanding of the ecological relationships presented

Soundness of interpretations and conclusions

Assessment task 3: Practical Scientific Write-ups

Intent:

Assess the students' ability to communicate hypothesis, introducing study sites, describe methods, and presenting the results generated after the class practicals.

This assessment task contributes to the development of the following graduate attributes:

1. Disciplinary knowledge and its appropriate application

2. An inquiry-oriented approach

3. Professional skills and their appropriate application

4. The ability to be a life long learner

6. Communication skills

Objective(s):

This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

03, 05, 06 and 07

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and 6.0

Type: Laboratory/practical
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 35%
Criteria:

Hypothesis testing and questions formulated

Synthesis of larger and more complex multi-site class results

Accuracy of calculations, plots, and other graphics

Discussion and conclusions write-up

Knowledge learned in discussion and conclusions

Assessment task 4: Final Report

Intent:

Assess your ability to integrate the generated results of the entire Subject into a synthesis scientific report. Produce a document of high quality such it can be part of your professional portfolio.

This assessment task contributes to the development of the following graduate attributes:

1. Disciplinary knowledge and its appropriate application

2. An inquiry-oriented approach

3. Professional skills and their appropriate application

5. Engagement with the needs of society

6. Communication skills

7. Initiative and innovative ability

Objective(s):

This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

1, 2, 3, 4 and 6

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

.0, .0, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2 and 3.1

Type: Report
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 30%
Criteria:

Ability to incorporate feedback provided

Organization of report, following outlined protocol

Ability to incorporate feedback provided

Measured Measured based on the incorporation of your peers and instructor/s comments to previous reports and oral presentations

Hypothesis testing and questions formulated

Synthesis of larger and more complex multi-site class results

Accuracy of calculations, plots, and other graphics

Discussion and conclusions write-up

Knowledge learned in discussion and conclusions

Minimum requirements

As a minimum requirement to pass this subject, students must complete and submit ALL assessment tasks, obtain a mark equivalent to 40% of the maximum mark possible for the project report, and achieve a total of no less than 50% for the subject.

Students are expected to attend lectures and participate in discussions revolving around the thematic material of pre-class materials and its integration with current events on the environment. The practicals are essential to the learning the skillset required in geospatial ecological monitoring, and hence require mandatory attendance.

Required texts

Effective Ecological Monitoring, by David Lindenmayer, Gene E. Likens, CSIRO, 2010.

References

Consider a Spherical Cow: A Course in Environmental Problem Solving, John Harte, 1988.