University of Malta

Study-Unit Description
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TITLE Marine Biology

LEVEL 03 - Years 2, 3, 4 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DESCRIPTION Marine biology comprises the study of organisms that live in oceans and their fringing terrestrial areas, and of how these organisms interact with their environment. The first part of this study-unit will deal with basic aspects of marine biology, including physical and chemical oceanography, major divisions of the marine environment, productivity, and functional adaptations of marine organisms. The second part of the course will focus on the Mediterranean Sea and will discuss aspects of Mediterranean marine ecology and biogeography highlighting how geological, physical and biological factors have interacted to give the observed patterns. The Mediterranean Sea is a complex environment, in some aspects functioning as a miniature ocean, while in others presenting rather unique features. In particular, the ecology of the sea is profoundly influenced by the climate and by interactions with the surrounding land-masses. The biogeography of the Mediterranean has been shaped by the geological and climatic history of the sea, and more recently, by human intervention.

Topics discussed during this unit include:

Part 1 General marine biology

• Basic physical and chemical oceanography: temperature and salinity, vertical stratification, water masses, oceanic circulation, tides, currents and waves;

• Basic biological oceanography: major divisions of the marine environment;
- Pelagic ecosystems: plankton, primary and secondary productivity;
- Nekton: functional adaptations, secondary productivity and importance to fisheries;
- Benthic ecosystems: phytobenthos and zoobenthos, primary and secondary productivity, benthic habitats, functional adaptations to life on the seabed;

Part 2 Aspects of Mediterranean marine biology

• Physical geography of the Mediterranean Sea, including climate;
• Oceanography of the Mediterranean: salt and water balance, water types, circulation;
• Production in the Mediterranean: primary production, secondary production;
• Geological evolution and palaeoecology of the Mediterranean with special reference to the central Mediterranean area;
• Marine biogeography of the Mediterranean: patterns of distribution, the Mediterranean endemics, immigrant and alien species.

Students are informed that regular attendance to lectures, to practical classes and to field work is obligatory. Students will be allowed to sit for the examination and a grade may be awarded to a particular study-unit only if attendance to lectures, practical sessions and any field work has been regular and if they have submitted all assignments and report(s) as required.

Study-unit Aims:

This unit is mainly aimed at equipping students with knowledge of the:
1. Biological and physico-chemical processes that influence the occurrence and distribution of marine species and species assemblages, with a main emphasis on the Mediterranean Sea;
2. Main characteristics of the pelagic and benthic divisions, including aspects of productivity;
3. Main characteristics of major shallow and deep water marine habitat types, including the biota and productivity they support, and the ecological processes, with a main emphasis on the Mediterranean Sea;
4. Aspects of the geography, hydrography, geological evolution, palaeoecology and biogeography (including patterns of the distribution of indigenous, endemic, immigrant and alien species) of the Mediterranean Sea;
5. Equipment and techniques used in marine biological studies;
6. Basic aspects of fisheries and other forms of exploitation of marine natural resources.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Appreciate and identify the influence of biological and physico-chemical processes on the occurrence and distribution of marine species and species assemblages.
- Identify the characteristics of the pelagic and benthic divisions, and the main habitats associated with them.
- Appreciate the particular biological and physical characteristics of the Mediterranean Sea.
- Appreciate the influence of anthropogenic activities on the marine ecosystems and the biota they support, with particular reference to the Mediterranean Sea.
- Acknowledge the importance of marine natural resources and the implications of over-exploitation and adverse impacts resulting from anthropogenic activities.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Integrate theory with applied problems in marine biology.
- Apply knowledge of marine biological processes and natural resources to understand how they can be affected by natural and anthropogenic changes.
- Distinguish between the main different techniques and gear used in (i) marine biological surveys, and (ii) harvesting of natural resources.
- Contribute to the design of basic marine biological surveys and undertake basic field studies and laboratory work to collect, process and interpret marine biological data.
- Use taxonomic keys and laboratory tools for the identification of species.
- Communicate scientific information in the form of scientific reports.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

- DENNY M. (2008) How the ocean works: an introduction to oceanography. Princeton University Press.
- KAISER M.J., ATTRILL M.J., JENNINGS S., THOMAS D.N., BARNES D.K.A., BRIERLEY A.S., POLUNIN N.V.C., RAFFAELLI D.G. & Le B WILLIAMS P.J. (2005) Marine Ecology: processes, systems, and impacts. Oxford University Press.
- KETCHAUM B.H. [ed.] (1983) Estuaries and enclosed seas. Elsevier.
- LEVINTON J. (2009) Marine biology: function, biodiversity, ecology. [3rd ed.] Oxford University Press.
- MARGALEF R. [ed.] (1985) Western Mediterranean. Pergamon Press.
- MOJETTA A. (1996) Mediterranean Sea: guide to the underwater life. Swan Hill Press.
- MORRISSEY J. F. & SUMICH J. L. (2009). Biology of marine life. Jones & Bartlett.
- NYBAKKEN J. W. & BERTNESS M. D. (2004) Marine biology: an ecological approach. [6th ed.] Benjamin Cummings.
- RODRÍGUEZ PRIETO C. & PARDINI G. [eds] (2004) The Mediterranean Sea. An overview of its present state and plans for future protection. [Lectures from the 4th International Summer School on the Environment, 2004] Institut de Medi Ambient. Universitat de Girona, Spain.
- SANDULLI R., GIACCONE G. & TURSI A. (2011) Biologia marina – Italian edition of CASTRO P. & HUBER M.E. (2010) Marine biology [8th ed]. McGraw-Hill [Italian translation of the classic text by Castro & Huber with added material of particular relevance to the Mediterranean Sea].
- SPEIGHT M. & HENDERSON P. (2010) Marine ecology: concepts and applications. Wiley-Blackwell.


ADDITIONAL NOTES Pre-Requisites: B.Sc. (Hons.) 1st Year, 2nd Year and 3rd Year Study-Units or equivalent.

Students are to note that they will be allowed to sit for this study-unit examination and will be awarded a grade only if they have regularly attended lectures and practical classes, if they have submitted any assignments, including practical reports and if they satisfy all other study-unit requirements.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Practical

Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Examination (2 Hours) Yes 75%
Practical No 25%

LECTURER/S Joseph A. Borg
Patrick J. Schembri

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.
MSc (Research) and PhD application deadlines
Application Deadlines for Academic Year 2017/18 
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