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Module BNS-3001:
Freshwater Ecosystems

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Nathalie Fenner

Overall aims and purpose

In spite of the relatively small percentage of the globe which they cover, freshwater ecosystems have huge significance for both humans and other organisms, even those in marine and terrestrial systems. This module introduces students to the diversity of freshwater habitats, from streams and rivers to ponds, lakes and wetlands. It will consider the evolution of these systems, the chemical and physical factors of importance and how these affect the biological communities within and beyond. Relationships between the different components of freshwater ecosystems will be explored and how they relate to ecosystem goods and services (EG&S). Different methods of classifying water bodies will be examined and the concept of payment for EG&S. Throughout our evolution, humans have had a close relationship with freshwater ecosystems and we will consider the effects of human activity over time and contemporary issues in the field. We will look at fisheries and fish stock assessment in fresh waters, at pollution, habitat disturbance and destruction, and also consider the creation of fresh water bodies. We will explore the consequences of human impacts on fresh waters for biodiversity, the environment and the future. We will consider some of the conflicts between exploitation of resources by humans and conservation. We will examine different approaches to conservation in freshwater systems, and consider the context in which decisions must be made. This module is designed to familiarise students with the knowledge and skills required for research into, and management of, freshwater ecosystems, for which there is a particular demand in the region. It will draw heavily on the expertise of professionals from not only within the University but from outside agencies (e.g. Natural Resources Wales (NRW), local consultancies) for design and delivery of the module.

Course content

Introduction to freshwater ecosystems. Habitat type: Plants & algae, physical & chemical characteristics, geomorphology/hydrology & structure of freshwater ecosystems. Classification of lakes, rivers & wetlands. Freshwater communities & relationships Human impacts on freshwaters & approaches to conservation & restoration. Fisheries ecology, life assessment and management & fisheries economics. Ecosystem goods and services services and their management.

Assessment Criteria


Awareness of the fundamentals underlying the science as outlined in learning outcomes 1-7, based on lecture material, but with limited or absent analytical ability.

Equivalent category CNS general marking criteria: D- (42%) to D+ (48%)


A good grasp of the fundamentals and demonstration of critical thought with evidence of additional reading. An ability to present a coherent argument with clarity. A good appreciation of the main approaches which might be employed in studying fresh water ecosystems and the ability to critically assess their suitability in a given situation.

Equivalent category CNS general marking criteria: B- (62%) to B+ (68%)


An excellent grasp of the fundamentals of the science (as in learning outcomes 1-7) and demonstration of the ability to analyse, critically assess and clearly construct a reasoned argument based on information from a variety of sources.

Equivalent category CNS general marking criteria: A- (74%) to A* (95%)

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate the skills necessary for self-managed and lifelong learning (undertaking directed reading, time management, working to a deadline)

  2. Describe the main processes and mechanisms which lead to the formation of fresh water ecosystems.

  3. Distinguish between different freshwater systems and describe their main features.

  4. Understand the relationships between chemical, physical and biological components of these systems.

  5. Appreciate how the ecological characteristics of particular habitats determines their management.

  6. Understand and compare the scientific methods employed to study freshwater ecosystems.

  7. Demonstrate knowledge of actual and potential human impacts on freshwaters and their EG&S, but understand the available options for conservation and management of fresh water ecosystems and the context in which any decisions must be made.

  8. Demonstrate the ability to think critically and apply a problem-solving approach (identifying hypotheses, considering options, drawing conclusions from data and considering implications of these conclusions) when presented with a hypothetical or real scenario based on a freshwater ecosystem.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
EXAM End Module Exam

Open book exam where students write an essay (1000 words excluding references and figures) answering a question from a list of choices. The topics from which the questions will be formulated will be know in advance, but not the actual essay question. The questions will be released on line and available for 24h.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


Approx. 15hr of lectures (depending on guest lecturer availability etc.), including typically case studies & guest lectures relating to current research and management in freshwater ecosystems, plus interactive sessions where students participate in full class discussion, allowing feedback on their understanding of the material covered to date. More specifically indicative content would be: a. Case study material relating to current research and management in freshwater ecosystems, integrating theory and practice. b. external guest lectures from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) & APEM Ltd c. 1 x 2 h revision & feedback session to prepare for exams.


A virtual or in situ field trip and or case study (approx. day or half day) where students will for example experience conservation measures on the ground and/or contemporary management methodology. Depends on site availability and weather etc.

Private study

Private study should supplement all teaching. Online support for the module will be provided via Blackboard, which will supply reference material, links to online resources, guidelines for completing assessments etc. Students will have access to external resources from, for example NRW and consultancy firms (e.g. APEM Ltd) linking content to employability.


Optional Freshwaters conference (virtual or in situ and/or recorded) where collaborative learning and networking is encouraged


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Caring - Showing concern for others; caring for children, people with disabilities and/or the elderly
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

  • Develop and identify research question(s) and/or hypotheses as the basis for investigation.
  • Conduct fieldwork and/or laboratory work competently with awareness of appropriate risk assessment and ethical considerations
  • Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
  • Awareness of the concepts of spatial and temporal scale in understanding processes and relationships.
  • Appreciation of the reciprocal nature of human-environmental relationships.
  • Apply appropriate techniques for presenting spatial and/or temporal trends in data.
  • Employ appropriate social-survey methods.
  • Preparation of effective maps, diagrams and visualizations.
  • Engagement with current developments in the biosciences and their application.
  • Appreciation of the complexity and diversity of life processes through the study of organisms.
  • Engage in debate and/or discussion with specialists and non-specialists using appropriate language.
  • Undertake field and/or laboratory studies of living systems.
  • Undertake practical work to ensure competence in basic experimental skills.
  • Understand the provisional nature of information and appreciate competing and alternative explanations.
  • Recognize the moral, ethical and social issues relating to the subject.
  • Collect and record data generated by a diverse range of methods.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the importance of risk assessment and relevant legislation


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Reading list

Extensive suggestions for useful reading material etc. will be provided on the Blackboard site (e.g. as PDFs) for the module because research papers rather than books are required. The following textbook however would be useful to consult: Stream Ecology. Structure and function of running waters. Authors: Allan, J. David, Castillo, MarĂ­a M.

Courses including this module