Ecosystems and Aquatic Ecology

Picture of a stream in the woods

Ecosystems and Aquatic Ecology

The Master's Programme in Biology, specialising in Ecosystems and Aquatic Ecology, adopts a holistic perspective on nature. Focus is on lakes and rivers and their physical, chemical and in particular biological processes. By studying their interactions, you will become acquainted with how ecosystems work and how humans affect them. This specialisation prepares you for jobs in water and natural resource-management, and is connected to ongoing research.

Information about the specialisation

Our society is dependent on a number of ecosystem services. Inland waters, for example, are used for fisheries, recreation, water supply and energy production. These uses, as well as other human activities such as agriculture, forestry and urbanisation affect natural ecosystems, and can lead to reduced water flow, eutrophication, pollution, spread of invasive species, and contribute to climate change. Solid knowledge of ecosystem structure and function is a key to the sustainable use of natural resources.

In Ecosystems and Aquatic Ecology, you will study the interactions between organisms and their environment. The ecosystem approach takes a broad, holistic perspective on nature by crossing disciplinary boundaries (e.g., Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Hydrology). It is about how natural ecosystems work, and in which way they are affected by human perturbations. The ecology of inland waters (lakes and rivers) constitutes an important part of this specialisation, but it also treats other natural as well as constructed ecosystems.

In this MSc specialisation, you will:

  • learn how ecosystems work, and in which way they are affected by human perturbations
  • get a broad, holistic perspective on nature, with focus on inland waters
  • by means of practical exercises gain skills to analyse and judge the status of ecosystems and natural resources.

The specialisation on Ecosystems and Aquatic Ecology within the Master Programme in Biology is the choice if you are aiming for work at authorities, consultancies and other organisations dealing with the management or conservation of natural resources, water or other aquatic resources. It also prepares you for an international research career in environmental science, aquatic science, or ecology.

he specialisation in Ecosystems and Aquatic Ecology starts with the course Limnology D, which aims to give you broad understanding of the fundamentals in aquatic ecosystems, focusing on inland waters. This course integrates the hydrology, chemistry and biogeochemical cycling of inland waters with knowledge about different organisms and biological communities, and how these interact with each other. An important component of this course is a one-week field course at the Norr Malma field station (Erken Laboratory), where you conduct own projects to get hands-on experience of aquatic ecosystems. If you already have limnology courses with corresponding contents from your Bachelor's degree, you can choose the alternative starting courses Ecology D, Toxicology D or Evolutionary Processes.

The second course is Applied Ecosystem Ecology, where you learn to work with catchments (river basins) as natural units for management and protection of natural resources. You will learn how to identify catchments and get an overview of how terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems interact, linked by the flow of water through the catchment. Human perturbations on both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, such as physical alterations, pollution, introduction of non-native species and exploitation of species populations, are treated in detail. You plan and conduct field samplings, analyse samples, and get thorough training on geographical information systems (GIS). The legislation and applied water management at national, European and international level are discussed and compared.

The next course, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning, deepens your knowledge on ecosystems. The interaction between organisms, food webs, chemical and physical conditions and biogeochemical processes are studied in detail, and examples stretch from microorganisms to fish. This course focuses on understanding the role of biodiversity for ecosystems, and the ecosystem characteristics that are important for biodiversity. One part is about measuring biodiversity and its significance to ecosystems. Theory is complemented with practical moments, and the students apply the scientific method through designing, planning, conducting and evaluating an experiment of their own. There are also sections dealing with scientific publication, good scientific practice and research ethics. Watch a short film about the course!

The last course of the first year is Ecosystems in the Anthropocene. The Earth is in the epoch of humans, the Anthropocene, because of the drastic, rapid and multifaceted human impact on nature. This course gives you advanced knowledge on how Earth's ecosystems react to global environmental change, and understanding for the interconnectivity between environmental change, ecosystem processes and human society. Potential future scenarios are discussed, including possible ways towards sustainable socio-ecological systems. Theory is complemented with modelling and a field course to give deep understanding of the central role of humans in Earth's ecosystems. Watch a short film about the course!

During the second year of the programme, you are free to select additional elective courses, or do a research internship in one of the research groups in Limnology or Plant Ecology at the Department of Ecology and Genetics. But most of all, you will conduct an MSc thesis of 30 or 45 credits under the supervision of professors and researchers. We can also supervise MSc theses that are conducted with partners outside the university, e.g. at authorities, companies or NGO's.

Career opportunities

This specialisation has a strong link to natural resource management and water management, thanks to its holistic perspective and broad approach to ecosystems and inland waters, and its incorporation of catchment as natural units for planning and management. There is also a strong link to ongoing research, and better knowledge about ecosystems is getting more and more relevant in the face of the ongoing environmental change

Specialising on ecosystems and aquatic ecology, you will be ready for a variety of jobs, for example in authorities dealing with nature conservation or aquatic resource management (municipal, regional and national administrative bodies). In the private sector there are environmental consulting agencies that work project-based and perform evaluations, inventories, and environmental impact assessments for different customers. There are also NGO's and other organisations working with water and natural resource management and environmental change (e.g. WWF, Fishing Associations). As a biologist, you can also become a teacher or science journalist.

Because of common organisation and legislation within the EU (e.g. the water framework directive, or Natura 2000), as well as within other international collaborations within natural and water resources, the job market is expected to expand even further. You will also be well-prepared for PhD studies and an international career in research.

Regardless of the professional career you have in mind, the common base is a broad and solid understanding of different types of ecosystems.

Career support
During your whole time as a student UU Careers offers you support and guidance. You have the opportunity to partake in a variety of career activities and events, as well as receive individual career counselling. This service is free of charge for all students at Uppsala University. Read more about UU Careers.