The goal of the course is to provide energy engineers with the fundamentals of ecology and the applications of the discipline to the problems of energy production and management, with a particular focus on ecological impacts at the local and global level.
The course topics are split into two parts
1. What is ecology and why it is important: Fundamentals of biology and physical geography of the earth. The interaction between the abiotic environment and the living organisms. Basic notions of climatology. The concept of ecosystem and the terrestrial biomes. Biodiversity and its indicators. The influence of man on the biosphere.
2. Ecosystem functioning: The basic processes (photosynthesis and respiration, primary production, decomposition). Their measurement. The flow of energy and materials in the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Food chains and networks. Ecological efficiencies. Energy pyramids. Biogeochemical cycles (general notions, carbon cycle and its implications for global warming, nitrogen cycle, hints to other cycles). The flow of toxic chemicals in ecosystems (bioconcentration, bioaccumulation, biomagnification).
3. Population dynamics and demography: Basic concepts (mortality, fertility, migration). Malthusian and logistic growth for both abundance and biomass of animals (including humans) and plants. The concept of carrying capacity. Age and size structure. Focus on human populations: demographic projections at the local, regional and global scale. Age pyramids and demographic transition.
4. Dynamical approaches to study key ecological interactions: The resource-consumer problem and models for trophic relationships. Simple approaches to understand complexities in trophic interactions: ditrophic and tritrophic food chains. Interspecific competition. The competitive exclusion principle. Niche partitioning and the “struggle for existence”.
5. Sustainability: The concept of sustainable development and of sustainable biosphere. Weak and strong sustainability. The three dimensions of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. Accounting for sustainability: indicators (GDP and GNP, ecological footprint, carbon footprint, water footprint, human development index, genuine progress indicator etc.) and tradeoffs. The sustainable harvesting of biomass: the concepts of MSY (maximum sustainable yield) and optimal rotation period. Basic notions of bioeconomics of renewable resources. Open access and the tragedy of the commons. Various regulation methods. Ecosystem and human health