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Module 5: Biodiversity & Species Extinction

Ecologise has consistently driven home that humanity needs to prepare for unprecedented environmental, economic and socio-political upheaval and uncertainty in the 21st century. In this new series, we showcase free short-duration online courses that focus on these various emerging crises and possible responses. Created by the world’s leading universities, they offer a good starting point to explore these complex challenges.

Note: The courses listed below have been selected from a large and growing list of free online courses, aimed at learners of all levels, and available in various formats. We urge the reader to explore the various options on offer online before selecting one that suits you.

Free online courses to understand the key challenges of our times

Module 5: Species Extinction & Biodiversity

Introduction to Ecosystems
Created by: The Open University
Hosted by: Future Learn

Taught by: David Robinson

If we don’t grasp why ecosystems function, it becomes harder to determine possible reasons for when they don’t, and makes it difficult to identify possible environmental threats to humans. In this course you will discover how organisms are linked together by complex interrelationships, how such links are studied and how the physical properties of a particular habitat interact with the organisms that inhabit it. Using case studies, you will come to learn how knowledge of ecosystems leads to understanding of their individual importance, and how they can be preserved. View details

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Biological Diversity (Theories, Measures and Data sampling techniques)
Created by: National Research Tomsk State University
Hosted by: Coursera
Taught by: Roberto Cazzolla Gatti

In this module we will explore the evolution of biodiversity. In particular we will understand what is the web of life and how species interact to coexist.Moreover, we will understand the main processes that allow the evolution of biodiversity and how it is structured and structures itself. Finally, we will review the distribution patterns of biodiversity in macroscale. View details

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Extinctions: Past and Present
Created by: University of Cape Town
Hosted by: Future Learn

Taught by: Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan

We focus on the five previous mass extinction events that have shaped the biodiversity of our planet. The fossil record reveals evidence of species that went extinct during these mass extinctions and the new opportunities created for the surviving biota to diversify. Turning to the present and the anthropocene period, we look at how human behaviour is now beginning to impact the Earth’s ecosystems. We consider the threat of the so-called ‘sixth extinction’, finding out how our actions are reducing biodiversity and threatening the survival of many species. View details

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Provost’s Lecture: Mass Extinctions and Evolution
Hosted by: Stony Brook University
Taught by:
David Jablonski, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology (a multi-institutional PhD program) at the University of Chicago

The fossil record is punctuated by extinction events at all scales, from the loss of one or two fish species with the drying of a lake, to the wholesale disappearance of dinosaurs (birds aside) 65 million years ago. The handful of events that are global in scale and bring down a wide spectrum of species are termed mass extinctions, which account for less than 10% of all the extinction over life’s long history, but have been pivotal in shaping the world’s biota. Because most research has centered on the causes of mass extinctions, we are just beginning to understand their evolutionary roles. Growing evidence points to a change in the rules of survival during mass extinctions, so that evolution is re-channeled during these rare but intense episodes. The evolutionary bursts that follow the extinctions may be just as important as the extinctions themselves, as new or previously obscure lineages take advantage of the opportunities opened up by the demise of dominant groups. However, a closer look at recovery intervals shows that survival alone does not guarantee evolutionary success: not all survivors are winners. The implications of this new understanding of extinction for present-day biodiversity are complex but wide-ranging. consumption. View details

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Biodiversity and Global Change: Science & Action
Created by: University of Zurich
Hosted by: Coursera

Taught by: Owen Petchey & Susanne Schulmeister

In this course, featuring many researchers at the University of Zurich, you will learn about the amazing diversity of biological organisms in the world around us. You will discover the field of “biodiversity science”, experience the countless forms that biodiversity takes, look at the values and importance of this diversity, understand the processes that create and maintain diversity, and hear about how biodiversity is distributed across the Earth. You will also experience how biodiversity is threatened, and what conservation, management, and individual actions can do for its protection. Having been equipped with such knowledge through the course, we encourage you to take action, however small, to positively influence the future of biodiversity, and thereby become a Biodiversity Ambassador. View details

Free online courses to understand the key challenges of our times

Module 1: Climate Change – Challenges and Solutions  

Module 2: Energy – Fossil Fuels And Our Future

Module 3: Water – Scarcity, Contamination, Conservation 

Module 4: Soil Fertility & Food Security


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