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

SOES1006 Introduction to marine ecology

Module Overview

This module provides an introduction to the important ecological processes that occur in a variety of marine ecosystems.

Aims and Objectives


The module aims to:

  • Introduce you to the principal coastal and oceanic ecosystems.
  • In each ecosystem, explore how environmental variables affect biological communities and ecological interactions.
  • Introduce topical research issues on biodiversity, global climate change, and the evolution of life in the oceans.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the module you should:

  1. Be able to recognise the principal coastal and oceanic marine ecosystems at global, regional and local scales.
  2. Have acquired a basic knowledge of the key biological, physical, chemical and evolutionary processes operating in these ecosystems.
  3. Have acquired basic knowledge of the types of plants and animals inhabiting marine environments and their ecological and evolutionary adaptations to particular physico-chemical conditions.
  4. Have been introduced to active research questions being pursued by scientists at NOCS.

Key Skills Acquired

You will gain:

  • Generic and subject-specific laboratory practical skills: principally making observations and recording information, using dissecting microscopes.
  • Fieldwork skills: introduction to boat work; observing and recording information.
  • Safety awareness: handling of preserved material in safe manner, safe fieldwork practise.


This module provides an introduction to the important ecological processes that occur in a variety of marine ecosystems. We will begin with an introductory lecture that will define marine ecology and highlight key patterns of distribution and diversity in the marine environment. For the remainder of the module, we will examine ecological processes and interactions in more detail in ecosystem-based lectures. We will initially focus on benthic ecosystems, starting off in the intertidal zone, in particular rocky, muddy and sandy shores. Zonation patterns and the physiological adaptations of littoral organisms to substrate type, tidal exposure, immersion cycles and temperature regimes will be considered.

We will also examine the fossil record, biodiversification and palaeoecology of marine animals in the first practical session and in some lectures. Estuaries will start the focus on water column ecosystems. Moving into productive shelf waters and oligotrophic subtropical gyres, upper ocean processes will be considered in terms of the controls and limits to phytoplankton primary production at regional and global scales. We shall then see how photosynthetically-fixed carbon is transferred through the major food web consumers including zooplankton and fish, and bacterial decomposition of detritus via the microbial loop. The ultimate recipients of water column production in coastal waters are the bottom-dwelling benthic communities of animals, which consume particulate detritus that rains down on them.

In the deep sea, benthic communities are influenced by a very different physico-chemical regime to that in marginal seas and not all such communities are dependent on upper ocean processes. For example, organisms which have colonised hydrothermal vents rely on chemical energy (sulphur) rather than the sun's energy (fixed by photosynthesis). Finally, the diversity and ecology of tropical and polar habitats will be introduced.

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:42
Private study hours:108
Total study time: 150 hours

Teaching and learning methods

Formal Lectures: (24 x 45 minutes): These will provide an introduction to the main marine ecosystems and their biological characteristics. The four main topics covered are the marine environment, margins of the sea, shelf seas and open oceans; and the deep sea.

Laboratory practical: (2 x 3 hours): These will be a mixture of hands-on analytical methods, video and specimen observations, and demonstrations, covering basic laboratory practical techniques, and benthic habitats.

Boatwork: A half-day boatwork practical in Southampton Water on board the SOES research vessels Callista and Bill Conway.

Research seminars: Research seminar on a contemporary topic in marine ecology will be given by guest speakers or via online lectures.

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

Resources and reading list

All of the lecture and practical material is summarised at Instructions for accessing this material will be given during the course.

Kaiser, M.J., et al., 2005. Marine Ecology: Processes, systems and impacts. Oxford University Press. (ISBN 0-19-924975-X)


Assessment methods

Main Examination (70%): A 90-minute examination, comprising 40 multiple-choice questions and 5 short-answer (e.g., couple of sentences, label diagrams, numeracy) questions covering information delivered in ALL LECTURES and PRACTICALS (except the boat sessions). Tests learning outcomes 1-4.

Interim Examination (30%): A 40-minute examination, comprising single word, short phrase, diagram, or 2-3 sentence answers to 15 compulsory questions covering information delivered in LECTURES AND LABORATORY PRACTICALS FROM WEEKS 1-7 ONLY. Tests learning outcomes 1-4.

Informal self-assessment: In addition to the formal course assessment outlined above, informal self-assessment tests will be posted on the SOES1006 Blackboard site (under ‘Assignments’). These will enable you to test your understanding of lectures, assess your own progress and give you an indication of the style of questions you will be answering in the examinations. Model answers are provided. These informal self-assessments do not contribute to your final mark.

Linked modules

Pre-requisites and / or co-requisites

A-level Biology preferred


Programmes in which this module is compulsory

Compulsory for students on the programmes listed below and available to other students within and outside of the School.

ProgrammeUCAS CodeProgramme length
BSc Oceanography (single honours)F7103 years
BSc Oceanography with Physical GeographyF7F83 years
MSci OceanographyF7004 years
MSci Oceanography with FrenchF7R14 years
MSci Oceanography with study abroadF7024 years
BSc Marine Biology with OceanographyF7C13 years
MSci Marine BiologyF7034 years
MSci Marine Biology with study abroad4 years


Costs associated with this course

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Printing and copyingWhere possible, coursework such as essays; projects; dissertations is likely to be submitted online. However, there are some items where it is not possible to submit on line and students will be asked to provide a printed copy. The University printing costs are currently: A4 - 5p per side (black and white) or 25p per side (colour) A3 - 10p per side (black and white) or 50p per side (colour) Please Note: Paper sizes not recognised by the printing devices will prompt you to select the size and then charge a minimum of 50p per black and white copy and a maximum of £1 per colour copy. You can pay for your printing by using the money loaders or by using print copy payment service by going to Please remember that we are unable to refund any credit that has not been used by the end of your course, so please consider this when topping up your printing/copy account. You will be given a printing allowance towards the costs of printing lecture hand-outs and/or practical scripts. The University Print Centre also offer a printing and copying service as well as a dissertation/binding service. Current printing and copying costs can be found here. They also provide a large format printing service, e.g. Academic posters. £0.05-1.00

There will also be further costs for the following, not purchasable from the University:

FieldworkAccommodation: For compulsory residential field courses accommodation and travel are normally provided. You are usually expected to cover the costs of food and drink, although some courses may include meals. For optional field courses, you may be asked to make a contribution to the travel and/or accommodation costs.
FieldworkInsurances: Although travel insurance is covered by the University high risk items, for example laptops and mobile phones, will require separate personal insurance.
FieldworkTravel: For compulsory residential field courses accommodation and travel are normally provided. You are usually expected to cover the costs of food and drink, although some courses may include meals. For optional field courses, you may be asked to make a contribution to the travel and/or accommodation costs.
EquipmentA ruler, a pair of compasses, set squares, protractor, pencils (including coloured), eraser, calculator and penknife.
EquipmentIT - Data Storage: Students are expected to provide their own data storage device.
EquipmentIT - Hardware: It is advisable that students provide their own laptop or personal computer, although shared facilities are available across the University campus.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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