tropical biocomplexity


 course description 


Social-Ecological Systems

BIOL-F4005 / VUB 4018749FNR


Prof. Dr. Farid Dahdouh-Guebas & Prof. Dr. Em. Jean-Louis Deneubourg

in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Jean Hugé


  Systems Ecology and Resource Management

Écologie des Systèmes et Gestion des Ressources

e-mail :



 course material 


The start of the next course editions are September this year and September next year (see schedule)

Course description


The course comprises 30 hrs theory, 6 hrs practicals and 12 hrs excursions (1 d).  The course targets Master students from the disciplines of Biology, Bio-Engineering, Geography and Environmental Management.



Aims and objectives :

1. To provide an overview of the constituents and theory (conceptual, analytical) underlying large-scale social-ecological systems (SES);

2. To understand diversity, redundance, stability, hysteresis and resilience in a functional ecological context and in a sustainability context;

3. To understand the ecological and social-ecological functioning of selected SES;

4. To zoom in on the mangrove forest as a SES and:

4A. To understand the ecological and social-ecological relationships within mangroves and between mangroves and adjacent ecosystems;

4B. To understand the consequences of anthropogenic threats to this SES;

4C. To understand the scientific approaches and tools to monitor, manage and restore this SES.

Upon completion of the course a student must be able to understand the constituents of a SES and to track down the ecological consequences on different sublevels (environment, fauna and flora) of anthropogenically induced changes on tropical coastal biodiversity and ecosystems, 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 structure follows a zoom from theoretical introduction (concepts, analytical tools) towards a global overview of SES and finally towards the mangrove forest as a model SES.  


Understanding change and ecosystem management:


Ecological and socio-ecological individual-based models  


Complexity at several levels in biology and ecology:


Mathematical basis for understanding complexity and change:


Complexity and resilience in social insects   


Complexity and social-ecological resilience in forest systems  


Complexity and social-ecological resilience in dryland systems  


Complexity and social-ecological resilience in freshwater systems  


Complexity and social-ecological resilience in oceans and estuarine systems  


The mangrove forest as a SES, describing constituents and relationships), the links with man and integrated research.


Part I  Mangrove forests and their biocomplexity  


Part II  Ethnobiology and anthropogenical impacts on mangroves and adjacent ecosystems  


Part III  Scientific research tools  


Compulsory study material :

Didactical material and information used during the course.


Additional study material :


- Berkes, F., J. Colding & C. Folke, 2003. Navigating Social-Ecological Systems. Building resilience for complexity and change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 393 pp.

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

- Chapin III, S.F., G.P. Kofinas, C. Folke & M.C. Chapin, 2009 Principles of Ecosystem Stewardship: Resilience-Based Natural Resource Management in a Changing World. Springer Science, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.  402 pp.

- Gunderson, L.H. & L. Pritchard Jr., 2002. Resilience and the Behavior of Large-Scale Systems. Island Press, Washington D.C., US. 287 pp.

- Gunderson, L.H., C.R. Allen & C.S. Holling, 2009Foundations of Ecological Resilience.  Island Press, Washington D.C., US. 496 pp.

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

- 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.

and current international research publications


+ current international research publications


Type of examination :

Role-Play Simulation: 40%
Oral assessment: 60% (theory, paper discussion in relation to course, individual-based model discussion)

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 !


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 +







There are ca. 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 assignments are given during the first lecture.





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) : 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 30'-intervals between students starting at 09h00.


Exam second session (August/September) : 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 30'-intervals between students.




Course material


All course material and instructions for the group assignment (Mangal Role-Play Simulation) should be downloaded through your e-learning platform :


Université Virtuelle (ULB) :


Canvas (VUB) :






Annual excursion to VLIZ Marine Science Day, February/March, Brugge.


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