The University of Southampton

SOES6021 Ecological modelling

Module Overview

This module focuses on increasing your awareness of different modelling approaches, and to give you the skills for constructing and using simple ecological models.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• To make you aware of the uses and limitations of different modelling approaches for studying the environment. • To teach you the skills required to construct simple ecological models. • For you to use these models to study ecosystem dynamics and biogeochemical cycling at contrasting locations in the global ocean.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Appreciate the merits and limitation of using ecosystem models as a means of studying marine biogeochemistry.
  • Construct ecosystem models from scratch using appropriate modelling software.
  • Analyse and assess the performance of simple ecological models applied to the marine environment.
  • Ability to formulate and run ecosystem models in Powersim.
  • Ability to use models to help interpret the dynamics of contrasting marine ecosystems.
  • An appreciation of the pros and cons of using modelling as a means of understanding marine biogeochemical systems.


Topics will include: • Introduction and concepts: o purpose of modelling; empirical and mechanistic approaches to modelling; o model formulation; o functional forms for equations; o parameter fitting; sensitivity analysis; o analysis of model output; validation; model intercomparison; o model complexity. • Modelling ecosystem dynamics: o Lotka-Voleterra models; o nutrient-phytoplankton-zooplankton (NPZ) models; o application to contrasting ecosystem scenarios (N. Atlantic vs N. Pacific); o role of bottom-up vs top-down processes in regulating ecosystem processes; o additional complexity: size structure, dissolved organic matter, etc.; o role of spatial heterogeneity (patchiness). • Modelling the marine carbon cycle: o dissolved inorganic carbon, calcification, air-sea exchange; o parameterisation of export flux and remineralisation; o non-Redfield dynamics. • Global models: o representation of biogeochemistry in general circulation models.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

This will be an intensive "short" course of three-weeks duration. Formal Lectures: will provide the theory in relation to the different modelling approaches in the marine environment. An outline of each lecture will be provided on blackboard. Each lecture systematically covers the main concepts and topics by the use of PowerPoint presentations. Where relevant, lecturers' own research experience in the appropriate fields is brought into the lecturing sessions. References to the applicable chapter of course text and/or relevant journal articles are provided as essential reading for each lecture. Practicals: There will be a strong emphasis on hands-on practical work in which you will develop and analyse models adapted for different marine scenarios using PowerSim. Background reading: It is anticipated that you should spend ~30 hours on background reading. A wide range of support can be provided for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Independent Study96
Total study time150


Assessment Strategy

Project 1 (50%): You will assemble a model from a set of equations and compare their results with a similar published model. Tests Learning Outcomes 1,2,3 Project 2 (50%): you will be provided with a model and asked to use it to examine the system dynamics of a chosen oceanic scenario. Tests Learning Outcomes 1 & 3 Note that students will be required to submit their project work electronically via e-assignment.


MethodPercentage contribution
Project 50%
Project 50%
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