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Neotropical Environmental Change

Module titleNeotropical Environmental Change
Module codeGEO3244
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Dunia H. Urrego (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module will focus on environmental change in highly-biodiverse ecosystems found in the tropical regions of the New World: the Neotropics. The module will cover long-term ecological change and its drivers from orbital (hundreds of thousands of years) to centennial timescales. The content will combine advanced concepts of climatology, biogeography, and environmental archaeology. Lectures will cover approaches to long-term ecological change in tropical systems, the origins of Amazonian biodiversity and environmental change during glacial times, the extinction of megafauna during the late Pleistocene and its effects on ecosystem functioning, biodiversity responses to rapid and abrupt climate change, the history of human-landscape interactions in Amazonia, amongst other topics of current scientific debate regarding long-term environmental change in the Neotropics. This module will allow you to put current and future threats to tropical biodiversity into a historical context, and to critically evaluate global-change environmental policies regarding some of the richest forests on earth.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The overall aim of this module is to develop an understanding of long-term environmental change in the tropical regions and its effects on biodiversity. We will explore and discuss drivers of change and biodiversity responses over long time scales. The coursework of this module will allow you to acquire effective communication skills for broad non-specialist audiences and to develop abilities on effective project design. Finally, the practical exercises will introduce you to computational and programming skills desirable in today’s employment market.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe in detail tropical ecosystems and their environmental history
  • 2. Explore advanced methods to understand long-term ecological change
  • 3. Explain in detail the spatial and temporal characteristics of environmental perturbations in the tropics
  • 4. Understand climatic mechanisms at play in the tropical regions
  • 5. Evaluate the impacts of human occupation in the American tropics
  • 6. Understand Bayesian probability models, regression, and interpolation-based chronologies

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 7. Perform advanced statistical analyses of multivariate datasets
  • 8. Explain in detail long-term environmental change forcing: both natural and human driven
  • 9. Recognise the challenges for the future of tropical biodiversity

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently to a non-scientific audience
  • 11. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 12. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem solving
  • 13. Identify, acquire, critically evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 14. Effectively and appropriately interpret and use physical theory and statistical information
  • 15. Develop quantitative skills to manage large datasets
  • 16. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management, library use and website investigation) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Tropical ecosystems and their climatic and environmental setting
  • Drivers of long-term ecological change in the Neotropics
  • Approaches to long-term ecological change in tropical systems
  • Amazonia during glacial times and origins of biodiversity
  • The functional extinction of megafauna in the American tropics
  • Rapid climate variability and biodiversity responses in the American tropics
  • Fire: disturbance or natural component of tropical ecosystems?
  • The history of human-landscape interactions in Amazonia
  • Challenges for the future of tropical biodiversity under a changing world

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 Teaching12Lectures (6 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Laboratory practicals (1 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching6Computer practicals (3 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching8Field trip to the Eden Project
Scheduled Learning and Teaching3Paper discussion (0.5 hour x 6)
Guided Independent Study40Reading, analysing, critiquing, reviewing scientific literature
Guided Independent Study49Essay reading and preparation
Guided Independent Study50Proposal development and writing


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Paper discussions5 x 0.5 hours1-4, 6-9, 10-14, 16Staff and peer assessment
Microscope and computer exercises4 x 3 hours1-5, 6, 9, 12Staff and peer assessment

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
Essay501500 wordsAllWritten, oral
Proposal501500 wordsAllWritten


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssayAll August Ref/Def
ProposalProposalAll August 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 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

  • Birks, H. J. B., Lotter, A. F., Juggins, S., & Smol, J. P.: Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments: Data Handling and Numerical Techniques. Vol. 5. Springer, 2012.
  • Bradley, R. S.: Paleoclimatology: reconstructing climates of the Quaternary, Academic Press, 1999.
  • Cronin, T. M.: Paleoclimates: understanding climate change past and present, Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • Mann, C. C.: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
  • Mann, C. C.: 1493: uncovering the new world Columbus created, Random House Digital, Inc., 2011.
  • Vimeux, F., Sylvestre, F., and Khodri, M.: Past climate variability in South America and surrounding regions: from the Last Glacial Maximum to the Holocene, Springer, 2009.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE page:

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Long-term ecology, environmental change, tropical biogeography, environmental archaeology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date