The University of Southampton

BIOL3068 Fluxes, Cycles, and Microbial Communities

Module Overview

Microorganisms are key players in all the major biogeochemical cycles on Earth. Microbial Biogeochemistry explores the microbial influence on the biological, chemical, and geological processes that shape natural environments on our planet. This is currently an area of intense research activity given the extent to which humans have been modifying the natural world, which have potential consequences for ecosystems, the biosphere and Earth’s climate. Microorganisms have a critical role in these processes as major controllers of elemental fluxes, ecosystem functioning and as producers and consumers of major greenhouse gases. This module will introduce students to the diversity of microbial life that has been shaping our biosphere since the early beginnings of life, and that continues to shape our biosphere in the Anthropocene.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim of this module is to provide an understanding of the contribution of microorganisms to the global biogeochemical cycles of elements on the planet. The module will summarise how the enormous diversity of microbial life on Earth, and the myriad ways they have evolved to capture energy, drives the fluxes and flows of elements. This will involve understanding the nature of microorganisms mediating key transformations in the global carbon, nitrogen and sulfur cycles, as well as other elements. The module will cover aspects of adaptation to extreme environments and the necessity of cooperation and symbioses.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe the role of microorganisms as drivers of biogeochemical cycles
  • Describe the key microbial players in biogeochemical processes and explain their role in ecosystem functioning
  • Explain how metabolic processes occurring within individual microbial cells can shape the environment and the biosphere
  • Explain how the chemical properties of oceans, freshwater and terrestrial environments are influenced by the action of microorganisms
  • Explain the role of microorganisms in the production and consumption of greenhouse gases
  • Understand how land use and global change is influencing microbial transformations, and ecosystems as a result


Lecture titles for BIOL3*** Microbial Biogeochemistry 1. Introduction, origin and history of life 2. How microbes influence or drive (bio)geochemical cycles 3. Where microbes live; adaptation to extreme environments 4. Microbial diversity and functions (1) 5. Microbial diversity and functions (2) 6. The Archaea 7. Methods for studying microbial ecology 8. Microbial sustenance and survival 9. Cooperation: symbioses 10. Cooperation: syntrophy 11. Our microbial planet: terrestrial environments 12. Our microbial planet: aquatic environments 13. Microorganisms in the oceans (1) 14. Microorganisms in the oceans (2) 15. The carbon cycle 16. The nitrogen cycle 17. The sulfur cycle 18. Metals: iron, manganese 19. Microbiology and global change 20. Course overview and summary

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module is delivered principally via lectures, supported by independent study of recommended reading material.

Wider reading or practice130
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 30%
Essay 40%
Journal 30%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%
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