Coastal and Marine Ecology for non-biologists

CMM03B Core Course 6 ECTS
Period -
Instructor Dr. Guðbjörg Ásta Ólafsdóttir


This is an introductory course in marine ecology and the coastal environment. While emphasizing ecosystem patterns and processes, this course introduces ecological principles of both population and community ecology and strives to relate ecological knowledge to the broader context of the many global environmental challenges we face today.


i) Basic concepts: Diversity of life, distribution and dispersal, principles of population growth and species interactions. Primary production, decomposition and nutrient cycling in marine ecosystems, their trophic dynamics and food webs. Relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem stability and ecosystem functioning, disturbance and succession of communities.

ii) Human induced impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems, including fisheries, aquaculture and climate change as well as introduction to ecosystem conservation.

Discussion sessions and writing assignments serve to deepen the understanding of selected theoretical and practical concepts, approaches or applications as well as to introduce students in reading and writing scientific papers.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • The student understands the role of ecology in environment and natural resources studies and management and its importance for decision-making.
  • The student understands the basic ecological principles of population, community and ecosystem ecology as well as the main patterns and processes of the marine ecosystems.
  • The student knows and understands the consequences of the major human induced impacts on marine ecosystems.

Practical ability and skills

  • The student will gain practice in reading and writing sections of scientific papers.
  • The student will be able to link human impacts on marine ecosystems to potential management actions.
  • The student can read most scientific papers in ecology and discuss basic ecological subjects in an oral and a written form.



Guðbjörg Ásta Ólafsdóttir has been the director of the University of Iceland's Research Centre of the Westfjords since fall 2007. She received her BSc in Biology from the University of Iceland in 2000 and a PhD in Zoology from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland in 2005. Both her PhD and postdoctoral work have focused primarily on understanding the formation and maintenance of biodiversity, using fish as a model species.

Her current research involves both theoretical issues and more applied questions concerning variation in natural populations, both in marine and freshwater environments. Her projects commonly combine multiple biological approaches, population ecology, molecular ecology, behaviour ecology and modelling.