Global Change Biology

Biology 4307 – Global Change Biology


Global Change Biology is one of the most challenging research fields driven by the necessity of mankind to adapt to the environment changing by the impact of civilization. This course will trace major global evolutionary trends in the biosphere from its origin to the present time. The changes in biological systems in the course of evolution have the potential to affect the physical and climate systems of Earth. In particular, we will survey the biological implications of anthropogenic changes to the biosphere, with the emphasis on the responses of plants and ecosystems. Global change factors considered will include rising atmospheric CO2, depletion of stratospheric ozone, alterations to the global nitrogen cycle, and global climate change. Understanding “global change” entails understanding how biotic and physical systems are interconnected in complex feedback loops. Human activities are causing multiple simultaneous changes; predicting the consequence of all of those interacting changes is vastly more difficult than predicting the effects of any one change in isolation, and often requires a more holistic, interdisciplinary approach to science. The course will complement and extend the existing courses by involving biospheric, palaeobiological, and molecular approaches to investigating global changes, and will provide students with the theory and with knowledge of experimental techniques applied in the global change research including particulars of the biosphere evolution and anthropogenic impacts. The students will get skills to understand concrete problems of past and current environmental changes using modern modeling approaches and comprehensive experimental techniques.

Calendar Description

Global Change Biology (Biology 4307) examines the evolution of biosphere, global role of photosynthesis in oxygen and carbon dioxide balance, glacial-interglacial oscillations, carbon sources and sinks in modern biosphere, greenhouse gases emissions, population dynamics, origin and global impact of agriculture, global changes in Holocene and Anthropocene.

The course will have three hours lectures and three hours seminar per week.

Prerequisites: Biology 2600, 2900 or permission of the instructor.

Course outline:


· Linking past to present: biotic and abiotic driving forces for global changes

I. Biosphere and its evolution

· What is Global Change Biology?

· Biosphere and its evolution in the past

· Glaciations in the past: snowball Earth

· Photosynthetic activity and oxygen in the atmosphere

· Role of photosynthesis in establishing O2/CO2 ratio

· Land plants and Permo-Carboniferous high oxygen atmosphere

· Rubisco as the enzyme buffering atmospheric CO2 concentration

· Greenhouse gases: CO2, methane, N2O

· Cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur in past and present

· Mesozoic biodiversity and evolution of the biosphere

· Cenozoic biodiversity and evolution of the biosphere

II. Soils, agriculture and global change

· Principles of plant phytospreading

· Formation and development of soils in Holocene

· Anthropogenic impacts on soils

· Origin of agriculture and human civilization

· Centers of origin of cultivated plants

· Agro-ecosystem management

· Land use change

· Ecological aspects of modern agricultural technologies

· Artificial photosynthesis

III. Human population dynamics and agriculture

· Human population dynamics in Pleistocene and Holocene

· Population and agriculture

· Animal farming and nomad warriors

· Population density and impacts on biosphere

· Nutritional problems in modern world

· Global food security

IV. Global changes in nitrogen dynamics

· Constituents of nitrogen cycle

· Nitrogen fertilizers

· Industrial fixation of nitrogen

· Eutrophication

V. Global changes in carbon dynamics

· Rising CO2 and temperature

· Anthropogenic changes in carbon sources and sinks

· Carbon sequestration and carbon mitigation

· The problem of “missing carbon sink”

· Ocean warming

· Acidification of oceans and its global impact

· Coral reefs

VI. Global changes in biodiversity

· Invading species

· Overexploitation

· Pollution

VII. Recent changes in the biosphere

· Glacial-interglacial oscillations and their possible origin

· Younger Dryas

· Holocene and early anthropogenic impacts

· Trends of cooling and warming in Holocene

· Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age

· The controversy of Anthropocene

VIII. Global change and Canada

· Global warming in Canada

· Trends of climate and biodiversity change in Newfoundland and Labrador


Seminars will cover primary literature pertaining to lectures. Each student will have an opportunity to make a presentation (15 min) and lead a discussion (10 min) on an assigned journal article. Students will be expected to prepare a term paper on a relevant topic.


Midterm Exam: 30%

Comprehensive Final Exam: 35%

Term Paper and Seminar Presentation: 35%

Text Resources:

There is no required textbook for this course.

Suggested text resources:

Huggett R.J. (2006) The Natural History of the Earth: Debating long-term change in the Geosphere, Biosphere, and Ecosphere (Routledge Studies in Physical Geography and Environment). Routledge, ISBN-13: 978-0415358026

Steffen W., Sanderson A., Tyson P. et al. (2005) Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet Under Pressure (Global Change - The IGBP Series). Springer, ISBN-13: 978-3540265948

Smil V. (2002) The Earth's Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change. The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262194723

Smil V. (2008) Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years. The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262195867

Diamond J. (2005) Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W. W. Norton, ISBN-13: 978-0393061314

Lovejoy T.E., Hannah, L. (Editors) (2006) Climate Change and Biodiversity. Yale University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0300119800

Relevant Journals: Global Change Biology, AMBIO, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Global Ecology and Biogeography,

All are current library holdings.


Andrei Igamberdiev

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000