The direct abiotic surroundings of organisms vary enormously in space and time, which makes it difficult to estimate impacts of environmental changes. How do temperature, humidity, wind and radiation vary in the atmosphere, and how do temperature and moisture vary in the soil? Using the physical principles behind this variation, applied in simple extrapolation techniques and models, students will learn to calculate the real microclimate surrounding of plants, animals and micro-organisms with fairly high accuracy from limited available information, e.g. meteo-data, soil characteristics, etc. This precludes the need for many sensors and loggers in experiments. Students will also learn how organisms exchange molecules and energy with the environment through fluxes in air, water and soil.
Examples of questions students will be able to solve after this course:
How fast will a puddle of water where animals live, dry up in summer? How much warmer (or colder) than the air will a leaf be during a heatwave? How does a vegetation alter wind speed (above it, but also inside it)? At what temperature do bacteria live at different depths in the soil? How much should a person drink in the desert to survive? How fast do nutrients flow towards a root hair in the soil? How fast will a crocodile that goes hunting in the water, after first basking in the sun, cool down and need to heat up again to stay active? How much solar radiation is there on 10 July at 14h26 CET at 50° N and 4°E when the sun shines? (no sensor needed…).
The course focuses on the interactions between organisms and their abiotic environment, and not on their ecophysiological consequences. The latter are dealt with in other courses, for example in Terrestrial ecosystem functioning. The physical principles are organism-neutral: the same principles apply to all organisms.