AEW-30306 Complexity in Ecological Systems


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Individual Paper1
Group work2
Independent study0
Course coordinator(s)dr. ir. ETHM Peeters
Lecturer(s)dr. ir. ETHM Peeters
prof. dr. M Scheffer
dr. ir. EH van Nes
dr. J van Ruijven
Examiner(s)dr. ir. ETHM Peeters

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

AEW-31306 Water Quality; SLM-20806 Water Quantity and Quality; CSA-20806 Populations and Systems Ecology


The course offers a modern complexity view on ecology. Complex systems may respond in a non-linear way to a changing environment due to feedback mechanisms. This may lead to the existence of tipping points, chaos and emergent patterns. In the course the functioning of shallow lakes will be used as a primary example to explain the essence of the mechanisms that govern complex system behavior. Throughout the course these insights are linked to other ecosystems by reading selected book chapters and working with mathematical models during computer practical. >br>
Important scientific articles on different themes are critically evaluated by the students. Each article is briefly introduced by the lecturers. The students individually read and analyze four of these key publications for weak and false points. The results are discussed in plenary sessions. Furthermore, small groups (3 to 4 students) analyze key scientific papers and a contrasting paper. Together they prepare a short presentation. Again the findings are discussed in a plenary session.

This course is based on principles of flipped-the-classroom and assumes an active learning style from the students.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- recognize, explain, quantify and apply key (biological) processes in various (aquatic) ecosystems;
- recognize, explain and analyze relationships between biological processes and chemical and physical processes;
- recognize and assess driving mechanisms and feedbacks in various ecosystems;
- analyse reasoning and argumentation in scientific articles;
- judge the value or significance of scientific information;
- recognize own interpretation from other views;
- set science and scientist in a broader social context.


- actively participate during contact hours (lectures, discussions, practicals);
- individually study course material at home;
- individually read and analyze a number of selected scientific articles;
- modelling in MATLAB;
- participate in group work and group discussions;
- voluntary participation in a Peer Learning and Teaching Group.


The mark for the course will be generated from the scores for the written interim examination. This written interim examination consists of a number open questions dealing with the basic knowledge part (weight 75%) and an assignment related to scientific skills/attitude part (weight 25%). The required minimum mark for both parts is 5.5. Furthermore, to pass the course all (weekly) assignments should have been handed in and presence and participation in discussions is required.


M. Scheffer (2009) Critical Transitions in Nature and Society. Princeton University Press ISBN 978-0-691-12204-5. Syllabus with guidelines for studying the material and articles handed out during the course.

Restricted Optional for: MBIBiologyMScD: Spec. D - Ecology2MO
MEEEarth and EnvironmentMScC: Spec. C - Biology and Chemistry of Soil and Water2MO
MAMAquaculture and Marine Resource ManagementMScB: Spec. B - Marine Resources and Ecology2MO