This module will introduce you to the theory and practice of palaeoecology (the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments in the past), the goal of which is to understand how ancient environments and ecosystems looked, operated and changed through time, and the controls on these. The primary focus of this module is the marine ecosystem, the largest ecosystem on Earth, where life began and which today, provides vital social, economic and biological services to humans, including the regulation of global climate. Complimentary insights are also provided into selected terrestrial ecosystems.

This module will provide you with an overview of:

  1. (Palaeo)ecological concepts and measures
  2. Key events and controls on the evolution of ecosystems (from micro- to macro- scopic life)
  3. The different means by which we can reconstruct past life, ecosystems and environments
  4. The relevance and lessons from the palaeontological record for understanding current anthropogenic changes, e.g. ocean acidification and global warming.

This topic is highly interdisciplinary, bringing together elements of palaeontology, sedimentology, oceanography, climatology, ecology, biology, and geochemistry.

By the end of the module you will be able to:

  • Understand and apply key (palaeo)ecological concepts and techniques.
  • Understand taphonomy and evaluate preservational bias in the geological record.
  • Describe and use different methods for reconstructing organisms’ ecology.
  • Demonstrate familiarity with biotic and geochemical methods of reconstructing past environments.
  • Identify and describe key events in the evolution of marine ecosystems and the dominant controls.
  • Assess the relevance and insights from the fossil record for understanding current anthropogenic changes.


  • Independent data analysis report (2,000 words)
  • Two-hour exam