The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre SouthamptonPostgraduate study

SOES6020 Structure and dynamics of marine communities

Module Overview

What are the processes that generate the patterns of life we find in the marine environment? Beginning with the tools used to identify ecological patterns, this module examines the structure and dynamics of marine communities (or rather "assemblages", to be philosophically correct) and the interactions that drive them.

Aims and Objectives


  • To provide an in-depth knowledge of the principles and concepts of marine community ecology and its application in the management of living marine resources.
  • To provide practical experience of ecological survey and data analysis.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the module you should be able to:

  1. Understand the key processes structuring marine communities and driving their dynamics.
  2. Be aware of the principles underpinning applied marine ecology in consultancy and management.
  3. Have gained practical experience of ecological sampling of marine communities.
  4. Write a technical fieldwork report and prepare a report for policymakers and stakeholders.
  5. Use the PRIMER software package for multivariate analysis.

Key Skills Acquired

  • Critical Evaluation.
  • Technical Writing.
  • Ecological survey techniques in the marine environment.
  • Multivariate analysis.
  • Teamworking.


Lectures cover the following areas:

  • Describing marine communities: measuring & interpreting species richness, diversity & abundance; multivariate analysis.
  • Dynamics of marine communities: spatial variation (gradients & zonation), temporal variation (succession, logistic growth, intraspecific competition, deterministic chaos).
  • Processes structuring marine communities: interspecific competition, predation, harvesting, food web dynamics, disturbance, patchiness, metapopulations and community assembly processes.

Practical work includes:

  • Species ID practical (optional, to enable ID of common species in fieldwork).
  • Boatwork in Southampton Water (subtidal survey).
  • Computer analysis of boatwork and deep-sea datasets.

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:38
Private study hours:112
Total study time: 150 hours

Teaching and learning methods

This is an intensive 'short' course of 3 weeks duration.

Lectures: systematically cover the main concepts and topics using PowerPoint presentations. All lectures are complemented by illustrated handout materials. Where relevant, the lecturer's own research experience is brought into the lecturing sessions. References to relevant journal articles are provided as essential reading for each lecture.

Boatwork: a subtidal survey in Southampton Water using the SOES research vessel RV Callista.

Computer practicals: cover multivariate analysis of boatwork and deep-sea data.

A wide range of support can be provided for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Resources and reading list

Blackboard material: Material is summarised at Instructions for accessing this material are given during the course.


Assessment methods

All assessment is made through coursework:

Fieldwork report (50%): Tests Learning Outcomes 1,3,4,5

Course essay (50%): Tests Learning Outcomes 1,2,3,4

Linked modules

Pre-requisites and / or co-requisites

Only available to MSc/ MRes students. Numbers are limited by fieldwork logistic constraints. No prior knowledge is assumed, though basic knowledge of invertebrate taxonomy and simple ecological concepts is useful.

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