Skip to main content


Peatland Ecosystems

Module titlePeatland Ecosystems
Module codeGEO3232
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Angela Gallego-Sala (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

For a long time, peatlands have captured the attention of ecologists because they are especial habitats where soils are anoxic and organisms living on these ecosystems are especially adapted to extreme conditions. Anoxia in soils results in an unbalanced carbon exchange between the land and the atmosphere and to carbon being stored for millennia. In this module, you will learn what peatlands are, where they exist and why they are important. You will be able to explore in detail the special role of peatlands in the carbon cycle and how there are special decomposition pathways in these waterlogged soils. You will understand why peatlands are archives of past environmental conditions, and how the study of peatland soils can reveal past vegetation and climatic shifts. Finally, the course will give you an insight into issues around present management and restoration of peatlands worldwide.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module has four main aims:

  • To explore the special nature of these ecosystems in terms of plant and microbial adaptations to anoxia.
  • To examine the importance of peatlands in the C cycle, the greenhouse gas exchange between these ecosystems and the atmosphere and the feedbacks between climate and peatlands, including peatland extent.
  • To highlight the importance of peatlands as archives of the past.
  • To examine existing management practices and possible future strategies for the preservation of ecosystem services provided by peatlands.

In this module we aim to enhance your employability through the encouragement and development of personal skills, self-presentation and confidence and by increasing your awareness of how the module content contributes to positive graduate attributes. There will be some discussion of possible employment paths through short video interviews with professionals related to peatland science.

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as carbon cycling in peatlands (Gallego-Sala), peatlands and the palaeo-record (Amesbury) and water quality and peatlands (Grant-Clement and others). Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the field trip, laboratory and report writing.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain what peatlands are, their main types and what their geographical extent is
  • 2. Describe and evaluate the role of peatlands in the carbon cycle, why they function as carbon stores, and the main greenhouse gas exchange in these ecosystems
  • 3. Explain how peatlands preserve a record of past vegetation and climatic conditions
  • 4. Evaluate the importance of peatlands in terms of ecosystem services, the importance of good management and the implications of restoration

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding in peatland science
  • 6. Outline a diverse range of approaches to the generation of knowledge and understanding in peatland science
  • 7. Evaluate a diverse range of specialised techniques and approaches involved in collecting scientific information in relation to peatlands
  • 8. Describe, apply and evaluate the diversity of specialised techniques and approaches involved in analysing scientific information and data collected in the field or the laboratory
  • 9. Assess the nature of change within physical environments, in particular in peatland ecosystems

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently by written means
  • 11. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 12. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving
  • 13. Identify, acquire, evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 14. Use C&IT effectively and appropriately to select, analyse and present information
  • 15. Effectively and appropriately interpret and use numerical statistical information
  • 16. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment
  • 17. Reflect on the process of learning and evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

  • Introduction to Peatlands: we will start with an overview of peatland habitats and peatland types. It will explore the diversity of peatland life and the main adaptations that organisms have developed to survive in this habitat.
  • Peatlands and the Carbon Cycle: we will then explore peatland carbon dynamics and greenhouse gas exchange including: climatic, vegetation and nutrient controls on the carbon input, carbon output and ecosystem carbon balance.
  • Palaeoenvironmental Evidence – the Peat Archive: we will investigate how peatlands can preserve records of past changes in climate and vegetation and archaeological remains.
  • Peatlands and Climate Change: peatlands are under threat from a wide range of different disturbances, including land use change, wildfires, climate change, the changing chemistry of atmospheric deposition. This part of the module will discuss how peatlands might respond to ongoing climatic changes.
  • Peatland Management: Finally, we will cover what ecosystem services are given by peatlands, and delve into the exploitation of peatlands, their management and restoration.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching14Lectures (5 x 2 hours, 4 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching4In-class seminars (4 x 1 hour) led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar by reading directed and other relevant material
Scheduled Learning and Teaching8Fieldtrip to Dartmoor
Scheduled Learning and Teaching7Laboratory classes (2 x 3 hours, 1 x 1 hour)
Guided Independent Study50Reading and research for assignment write up
Guided Independent Study20Reading and research for tutorials/seminars
Guided Independent Study47Reading and research for exams


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
In-class small group practicals and tutorials9 hoursAllPeer and tutor

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination502 hoursAllWritten
Fieldwork scientific report401500 wordsAllWritten
Field and laboratory notebook10500 wordsAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust Ref/Def
Fieldwork scientific reportFieldwork scientific reportAllAugust Ref/Def
Field and laboratory notebookField and laboratory notebookAllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination or submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Mainly through directed and other reading of primary science literature (i.e., Journal articles). In addition, the following texts are useful:

  • Charman, D. 2002. Peatlands and Environmental Change, Chichester, John Wiley and Sons.
  • Rydin, H. and Jeglum, K. 2006. The Biology of Peatlands Oxford University Press 2010.
  • Wieder, R. K. and Vitt, D. H. 2006. Boreal Peatland Ecosystems, Berlin, Spring-Verlag.
  • A. Bonn, T. Allott, M. Evans, H. Joosten and R. Stoneman (Eds) Peatland Restoration for Ecosystem Services Cambridge University Press

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Peatlands, biogeochemistry, palaeoenvironments, C-cycle, environmental

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date