The University of Southampton

SOES2017 Ecological Processes in the Marine Benthos

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

Lecture/practical component: The aim of this course is to provide you with an understanding of the fundamental ecological processes occurring in marine benthic habitats and an appreciation of their importance in the functioning of the ecosystem at local and global scales. The course is designed for marine ecologists who wish to apply ecological theory and concepts within a marine context and wish to specialise in benthic systems. Appropriate examples from a variety of habitats will be used to illustrate broader ecological concepts. The course has two primary aims: 1. To appreciate fundamental ecological processes within the marine benthos with special reference to coastal cohesive sediment systems. 2. To gain experience of developing a research proposal of wider relevance to society based on the ecological concepts learnt within the module Fieldcourse component: 1. None

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • sediments as a habitat
  • the impact of benthic systems on higher ecosystem dynamics
  • the extent of human impacts
  • you will also apply the knowledge you gain from this course to the development of your own research proposal.
  • the distribution and definition of benthic habitats
  • sediment microbiology
  • sediment biogeochemistry
  • key benthic invertebrates
  • linkage between benthic and pelagic systems
  • sampling methodologies in inter-tidal, coastal and deep sea environments
  • faunal adaptations to life in the benthos
  • benthic diversity and ecosystem function


The following subject areas are dealt with during the module: • Introduction to sediment processes and the distribution of marine sediment habitats • Classification and descriptions of benthic invertebrate communities • Methods of sampling marine benthic habitats • Experimental approaches used in marine benthic ecology • Species adaptations to living in cohesive and non-cohesive sediments • Sediment microbial processes and biogeochemical cycling • Effects of species activity on the sediment profile (bioturbation and bioirrigation) • Functional effect groups • Organism-sediment interactions • Benthic biodiversity • Consequences of altered biodiversity for ecosystem functioning • Benthic-pelagic coupling • Assessing habitat quality • Anthropogenic impacts in benthic systems • Modifying effects of species and environment interactions on species behaviour and ecosystem functioning

Special Features

Master of Marine Biology and BSc Marine Biology with Oceanography students only: There is a compulsory practical component of this module which comprises a week-long residential fieldcourse. [The fieldcourse component is not available to other students registered for SOES2017.]

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal lectures: the course deals almost exclusively with the ecology of marine sediments. The formal lectures provide a framework outlining the development of methods for studying the benthos and development of theories that have helped our understanding of benthic processes. Many examples are provided. Informal Class sessions: We will use 5 sessions throughout the course for interactive discussions, feedback on progress, and revision sessions. The latter will include opportunities to revisit aspects of the course in more detail or to expand on difficult concepts. Fieldcourse: n/a A wide range of support is available for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Completion of assessment task10
Wider reading or practice36
Preparation for scheduled sessions8
Total study time150


Assessment Strategy

Assessment differs depending on degree pathway


MethodPercentage contribution
Data Analysis 20%
Group presentation 20%
Theory examination  (2.5 hours) 60%

Linked modules

Prerequisites: SOES1006 or SOES1008

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