tropical biocomplexity


 course description 

 Biocomplexity Research Focus

Tropical Biocomplexity :

natural dynamics, indigenous interactions

and sustainable management



Prof. Dr. Farid Dahdouh-Guebas


  Systems Ecology and Resource Management

Écologie des Systèmes et Gestion des Ressources

e-mail :

Biocomplexity Research Focus


 course material 


The start of the next courses is scheduled for November 2016 and September 2017 (see schedule)

Course description


The course comprises 2.5 ETCS theory (30 h), 1.5 ECTS practicals (18 h) and 2 ECTS excursions (3 d).  The course targets Master students from the disciplines of Biology, Bio-Engineering, Geography and Environmental Management.

The course will soon be merged with Biocomplexity and Systems Ecology and be renamed 'Social-Ecological Systems'.


Aims and objectives :

1. Overview of the nature of interconnected tropical ecosystems : tropical rainforests, mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs;
2. Understanding of the ecological relationships within and between each of these ecosystems (biocomplexity);

3. Understanding the consequences of anthropogenic threats to these ecosystems.

Upon completion of the course a student must be able to track down the ecological consequences on different sublevels (environment, fauna and flora) of anthropogenically induced changes, and must be able to situate the environmental problems in a holistic context (relationship with socio-economical factors).


Compulsory or advised pre-knowledge :

A Bachelor training in sciences is required. A course on 'general ecology' may be helpful.

Consider taking the following course in parallel Scientific Presentation Skills and Career Planning (BING-F-537).


Content :

The course comprises three related parts, describing each of the ecosystems separately (incl. within and between relationships), the links with man and integrated research.  The greater emphasis is on mangrove forests.

Part I – Tropical rainforests, mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs and their biocomplexity
- distribution of tropical rainforests, mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs;

- faunal and floral biodiversity, incl. morphological, physiological and ethological adaptations to tropical environments and to intertidal and marine life;
- comparison of ecosystem function between tropical rainforests, mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs;

- ecological mutual benefits between the tropical ecosystems;

- food webs and trophic relationships;


Part II – Ethnobiology and anthropogenical impacts on tropical ecosystem dynamics
- spatial structures and natural dynamics

- social, economical and cultural value and services of tropical rainforests, mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs;

- anthropogenically induced threats on one or more ecosystems and the consequences for the other ecosystems;

- local vs. global patterns of change.


Part III – Scientific research tools and approaches

- monitoring, modelling and experiments (incl. management, restoration and conservation);

- the use of remote sensing and GIS;  

- combinatory and multivariate analyses;

- essentials of tropical habitat management

- case-studies and management guidelines with respect to tropical ecosystems.


Compulsory study material :

Didactical material and information used during the course.


Additional study material :


- Carson, W. & S. Schnitzer, 2008. Tropical Forest Community Ecology.  Wiley Blackwell, Oxford, U.K. 517 pp.  ISBN : 1405118970.

- Hogarth, P., 2007The Biology of Mangroves and Seagrasses. Oxford University Press Inc., Oxford, UK. 273 pp. ISBN : 978-0198568711.

- Primack, R. & R. Corlett, 2005Tropical Rain Forests : An Ecological and Biogeographical Comparison.  Blackwell Science Ltd., Oxford, U.K. 319 pp. ISBN : 0-632-04513-2.

- Puig, H., 2001. La Forêt Tropicale Humide. Editions-Belin, Paris, France. 448 pp.  ISBN : 2-7011-2446-8.

- Waycott, M., K. McMahon, J. Mellors, A. Calladine & D. Kleine, 2004A guide to Tropical Seagrasses of the Indo-West Pacific.  James Cook University, Townsville, Australia. 72 pp. ISBN : 0-86443-726-9.


+ current international research publications


Type of examination :

Individual assignment + oral examination without written preparation.  The examination matter is the oral and written matter covered during the lectures.  Note that the course material only provides the slides used during the lectures and all oral and blackboard information !


During the oral exam the student usually receives a question from each of the three course parts first, followed by an interdisciplinary question that requires the integration of the relevant information from the three course parts.  In general, sound in-sight into the subject matter is as important as knowledge, if not more important.


Examples Part I questions :

- Explain how a coral reef is formed.

- Illustrate briefly the adaptation of mangroves to the intertidal environment based on mangrove physiognomy.


Examples Part II questions :

- How can the resources of tropical ecosystems be employed in traditional house building ?

- Explain the response of the environment, a population and an ecosystem to temperature increase.


Examples Part III questions :

- What is an ordination ?

- Illustrate the use of remote sensing to quantify an ecological footprint.


Examples integrative questions :

- Explain the short and long-term effects of selective cutting in terrestrial or semi-terrestrial forests on the functioning of the coral reef.

- What would be the effect of inland groundwater pumping for the plants and people in the coastal zone ?


Additional information:

The following website has been developed :

Course + material :

Thesis topics : introductory lecture +

Bibliography on Tropical Coastal Ecosystems : 







There are 10 lecture days of 3 h and each lecture is interrupted by a small break of about 20 minutes.


Please check on your institution's official course schedule for dates, times and venues:



or check both, because sometimes there may be incomplete data, errors or double bookings...


Details on research, thesis topics and individual assignment are given during the first lecture.


Strict deadline of compulsory individual assignment : Thursday 8/12/2016 at 10h00'00" at Plaine (ULB office, Secretary)




(incl. discussion of individual assignment)


Students belonging to curricula who are following this course optionally (e.g. Human Ecology, Erasmus/Socrates students) or with special statutes (top sports, handicap,...) are requested to take contact with the lecturer for the planning of the examination.


All exams take place in room O.3.204 (Campus Plaine, ULB side, Etterbeek).


Exam first session (January 2015) : please sign up for the day of exam at your secretariat, or with the class responsible who will interact over this with the lecturer.  Exams take place individually at 45'-intervals between students starting at 09h00.


Exam second session (September 2015) : please sign up for the day of exam at your secretariat, or with the class responsible who will interact over this with the lecturer.  Exams take place individually at 1-hour intervals between students.




Course material


All course material should be downloaded through your e-learning platform :


Université Virtuelle (ULB) :


PointCarré (VUB) :



Practicals and individual assignment


Individual assignment instructions : click here.





Excursion to VLIZ Young Scientist's Day, February/March 2017, Brugge.


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