Class Central is learner-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Online Course

Ecology: Ecosystem Dynamics and Conservation

American Museum of Natural History and Howard Hughes Medical Institute via Coursera

  • Provider Coursera
  • Cost Free Online Course (Audit)
  • Session Upcoming
  • Language English
  • Certificate Paid Certificate Available
  • Duration 5 weeks long
  • Learn more about MOOCs

Taken this course? Share your experience with other students. Write review


This course is an introduction to ecology and ecosystem dynamics using a systems thinking lens. Through a case study on Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, learners will explore how scientists study ecosystems, and investigate the complex array of factors that inform management efforts. At the end of the course, learners will be able to grapple with real-world conservation questions, such as whether an ecosystem can recover from anthropogenic disruption and what role humans can, and should, play in that recovery.


Can an Ecosystem Recover?
-We begin in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, and pose the question: Can this ecosystem recover after a 15-year civil war? To answer this question, learners must first consider what they need to know—what are the parts that make up this ecosystem, and how do they interact and work together? How do ecosystems react to disruption? How do we know? We will begin to explore the ecosystem as a dynamic whole rather than as a collection of parts, considering how changes might affect the system in a variety of ways. This application of a systems thinking lens to understanding ecosystems will be a common theme throughout the course.

How Do We Study Populations?
-This week, we narrow the focus to populations within ecosystems. Who or what populates an ecosystem, and what are their roles? How do these roles change over time? What happens when a species is removed from a system? How do scientists study the populations within an ecosystem, from its largest to its smallest inhabitants? You will explore the important roles different species can play—such as ecosystem engineers, keystone species, and indicator species—and how they shape their ecosystems.

How Do Species Coexist?
-This week we focus on community ecology and further explore the interactions between species in an ecosystem. For instance, how does the decline in a population from an ecosystem (as was the case in Gorongosa) affect the other players? How does adding a population -- such as an invasive species or translocated herds -- affect an ecosystem?

How is an Ecosystem a System?
-This week, we will further their understanding about what makes an ecosystem a system by examining the flow of energy and matter through different parts of the environment. This includes understanding the interactions of biotic and abiotic factors within an ecosystem and the services each component provides. We will introduce the complicated effects of both abiotic (climate change) and biotic (herbivory) interactions within a coastal salt marsh system, touching on ecological concepts of thresholds in a system and ecosystem resistance and resilience.

Can an Ecosystem Recover?
-This week we conclude by focusing on the role of humans in ecosystems: how humans interact with and are shaped by their environments. We explore the meaning of the “anthropocene” (the title given to the current geological age in recognition of significant impact of human activities) and investigate management approaches that balance human needs and biodiversity. We also return to Gorongosa National Park to wrap up the course, shifting the conversation from "Can an ecosystem recover?" to "Should it recover?" and "What does a successful recovery look like?" We explore how conservation might have to adjust to future challenges such as climate change, extinctions, and human population growth. We also introduce the idea that a spectrum of conservation approaches is necessary, from the preservation of land and species, to the integration of biodiversity into market economies, to the creation and management of “novel” ecosystems.

Taught by

Ana Luz Porzecanski

Help Center

Most commonly asked questions about Coursera

Reviews for Coursera's Ecology: Ecosystem Dynamics and Conservation Based on 5 reviews

  • 5 stars 100%
  • 4 star 0%
  • 3 star 0%
  • 2 star 0%
  • 1 star 0%

Did you take this course? Share your experience with other students.

Write a review
  • 1
Navindra M
Navindra completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be hard.
Very good course to set up the advanced vision of Ecosystem Dynamics and Conservation.

Handy design with the efficient management of learners' time.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Supriya S
Supriya is taking this course right now and found the course difficulty to be medium.
Well ...while sitting at home at the time of lock down in really like this course and it will help me out in future as well
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Michelle V
Michelle completed this course, spending 5 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
I thoroughly enjoyed this high-quality course! Week by week, I gained a greater appreciation of the importance of ecology and conservation – not only for targeted individual species but for the interactive balance of whole ecosystems. I learned not only what was being studied within the vast field of ecology but also how it was being studied, including field experiments and mathematical modelling. It was exciting to be taken along for the ride and see the research unfold with new data. The relations between termite behaviour, mathematical patterns in landscapes and their effects on the rest of the ecosystem are mind-blowing.

Be aware that the readings take quite a bit longer than 10 minutes, and there is occasionally some overlap between an article and a video. I was slightly disappointed that my good questions (in my opinion) on the discussion forum barely got answers, but perhaps they are yet to come. I do highly recommend checking out the further resources provided.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Mohamed A
Mohamed is taking this course right now.
this course is an outstanding and i'm very glad to participate, because my country Somalia have great history and natural resource and spectacular ecosystem that is why i chose the course . I hope it will contribute to my career and personal advance
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Anonymous is taking this course right now.
I am about to take this opportunity to take this course, thanks for fulfilling this, I am glad, because I am interested in this course, thanks to the faculty, online platform
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
  • 1

Class Central

Get personalized course recommendations, track subjects and courses with reminders, and more.

Sign up for free

Never stop learning Never Stop Learning!

Get personalized course recommendations, track subjects and courses with reminders, and more.

Sign up for free