University of Malta

Study-Unit Description
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TITLE Plants, Insects, Birds and Man

LEVEL I - Introductory Level


DEPARTMENT Centre for the Liberal Arts and Sciences

DESCRIPTION There have always been important relationships between earth’s rich biodiversity and the human race. Plants, not only represented an important source of food to man (which through the ages he managed to select the best varieties for cultivation), but have also been used for landscaping and afforestation programmes, a main source of timber, paper, cork, and a source of medicinal usage. Insects formed a major link with the human race in both a positive and a negative way. Honey, a rich source of sugar have been harvested from bees since antiquity, and likewise the production of silk from silkworms provided an economic revolution especially in south-east Asia. But insects have also been a nuisance to man and his animals and to the cultivation of agricultural crops. Deadly diseases such as malaria and many other diseases associated with domesticated animals and crop production has been a main target for research in these last 150 years. Birds are no exception, as this diversity has fascinated many generations. Birds have served utilitarian needs for food, and feathers were used for decoration and bedding. Many cultures have deep associations with birds and rituals. Birds have inspired music, song, dance and literature. Birds also provided utilitarian and, later, recreational activities such as trapping, hunting, breeding, bird watching, drawing, model making and photography.

Bird migration has mystified people and prompted people to study how and why birds migrate.

Studies of migration are now using leading edge technologies. Birds are important sources of revenue to several people from landowners who rent land for hunting and trapping purposes, to shops that sell outdoor gear and hunting goods to pet shops as well shops that sell optical and photographic equipment.

This Unit will aim in giving to students an overview of what is to be found in the Maltese Islands in terms of plants, insects and birds and briefly describe their role with special reference to human impact. Selected examples from the mentioned groups will be given to understand better their role within the complex ecosystems around us. Information will also be provided on alien species of plants, insects and birds which have been established in the Maltese Islands and the impact we have had via such introductions.

Finally the Unit will also provide a platform to the students on the importance of conserving this biodiversity for all future generations to come.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the Unit the student will be able to:
- Understand better the ecological requirments and the habitat types of the mentioned organisms;
- Appreciate better bird migration and its significance for the survival of these organisms;
- Understand better how alien organisms are reaching the Maltese Islands and their impact on the environment;
- Understand better the network which exists between all living organisms and the human race;
- Know about the importance of birds, plants and insect in the bio-diversity of the Maltese Islands;
- Think about remedial preventive or action that can be beneficial to nature and hence, human kind.

2. Skills:

By the end of the Unit the student will be able to:
- Identify the indigenous, endemic and alien species of plants, insects and birds that are found in the Maltese Islands;
- Identify which human activity can have adverse impacts on selected species.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

- Cocker, M. (2013) Birds and people. Jonathan Cape, London.
- Fenech, N. (1992) Fatal Flight, the Maltese obsession with killing birds. Quiller Press.
- Fenech, N. (2010) A complete guide to the Birds of Malta. Midsea Books. 424 pp.
- Murphy, P.D. (1998) Literature of Nature, an international sourcebook. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, Chicago and London.
- Haslam, S.M., Sell, P.D. & Wolseley, P.A. (1977) A flora of the Maltese Islands. Malta University Press, 560 pp.
- Roques, A. et al. (2010) Alien Terrestrial Arthropods of Europe. Biorisk, 2 volumes. ISSN 1313-2652 (online), 1028 pp.
- Lanfranco, G. (1975) Duwa u semm fil-hxejjex Maltin.
- Lanfranco, G. (1993/2000) Hxejjex Medicinali u ohrajn fil-gzejjer Maltin.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Fieldwork

Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Natalino Fenech
Edwin Lanfranco
David Mifsud (Co-ord.)

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.
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