Course Syllabus


Urban Ecology DIS Logo


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Semester & Location:

Fall 2021 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines: Sustainability and Urban Studies


Faculty Members:

Inger Kærgaard -

Program Director:

Neringa B. Vendelbo -

Time & Place:

F24-303, M & Th, 11:40-13:00


Description of Course

Demographic trends reveal that the proportion of people living in cities is increasing worldwide. In this time of global change, we will examine how both nature and humans have responded ecologically and evolutionarily to urbanization. The course will examine physical and biological factors that drive the ecology of urban areas. A central goal will be to understand how interactions between humans and the environment drive and are driven by the built environment especially in the context of the physical and biological. We will examine both conceptual underpinnings and the application of theory to practice to improve human welfare and environmental quality. Where possible, we will take a comparative approach examining differences and similarities between Europe and the US.


Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, students should have a firm understanding of the concepts.

  • The interaction between humans and the urban environment, especially the interplay between humans, biological systems, and the abiotic environment.
  • The concept of the urban ecosystem
  • Principles of landscape ecology in an urban context, especially fragmentation and island biogeography
  • Evolutionary adaptation of humans and other organisms in an urban environment
  • Climate change and urbanizations


Inger Kærgaard

Inger Kærgaard holds a MSc in biology (University of Copenhagen, 2004). Focused on sustainability and conservation biology. Project manager at a University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland. One project in environmental education was funded by the EU, another project funded by the Swiss government involved sustainable income generating activities for organic farmers in the Swiss Alps (2004-2006). Worked for various NGOs on forest protection and sustainable development in Thailand and Indonesia (2007 and 2010). Taught biology in an upper secondary school in Denmark and was also involved in an education program for sustainability education (2010-2013). Organized two photo exhibitions on forest issues. The exhibitions were supported by Danida and were based on qualitative research, which Inger carried out in South East Asia (2009 and 2012). Furthermore Inger works with urban bat ecology in Copenhagen. With DIS since 2014.


There is no textbook for this course and many readings are found exclusively on Canvas.

  • Montgomery, M. R. (2008). The urban transformation of the developing world. Science,319(5864), 761-764.
  • Pataki, Diane E., et al. "Coupling biogeochemical cycles in urban environments: ecosystem services, green solutions, and misconceptions." Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (2011): 27-36.
  • Antrop, M. (2004). Landscape change and the urbanization process in Europe. Landscape and urban planning,67(1), 9-26
  • Goddard, M. A., Dougill, A. J., & Benton, T. G. (2010). Scaling up from gardens: biodiversity conservation in urban environments.Trends in Ecology & Evolution25(2), 90-98.
  • Turner, W. R., Nakamura, T., & Dinetti, M. (2004). Global urbanization and the separation of humans from nature.Bioscience54(6), 585-590.
  • McKinney, M. L. (2006). Urbanization as a major cause of biotic homogenization. Biological conservation127(3), 247-260.
  • Faeth, S. H., Warren, P. S., Shochat, E., & Marussich, W. A. (2005). Trophic dynamics in urban communities.BioScience55(5), 399-407.
  • Alberti, M., Marzluff, J. M., Shulenberger, E., Bradley, G., Ryan, C., & Zumbrunnen, C. (2008). Integrating humans into ecology: opportunities and challenges for studying urban ecosystems. In Urban Ecology (pp. 143-158). Springer US.
  • Andersen, H. T., Møller-Jensen, L., & Engelstoft, S. (2011). The end of urbanization? Towards a new urban concept or rethinking urbanization. European Planning Studies,19(4), 595-611.
  • Busck, A. G., Hidding, M. C., Kristensen, S. B., Persson, C., & Præstholm, S. (2008). Managing urban landscapes in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden: Comparing planning systems and instruments in three different contexts. Geografisk Tidsskrift-Danish Journal of Geography,108(2), 1-16.
  • Caspersen, O. H., Konijnendijk, C. C., & Olafsson, A. S. (2006). Green space planning and land use: An assessment of urban regional and green structure planning in Greater Copenhagen.Geografisk Tidsskrift-Danish Journal of Geography106(2), 7-20.
  • Gill, S. E., Handley, J. F., Ennos, A. R., & Pauleit, S. (2007). Adapting cities for climate change: the role of the green infrastructure. Built Environment (1978-), 115-133.

Field Studies

18 September: Field orientation to the urban environment around Copenhagen. Key activities: Examining commonalities and differences; Building observation and analysis skills; Intro to the field journal

6 November: Urban ecological planning in Copenhagen. Key activities: Bike tour viewing key locations in Copenhagen integrating urban planning and ecology. 

Approach to Teaching

Most class sessions will be a mix of lecture/discussion and time in the field. Lecture will serve primarily to present background information to provide for more in-depth analysis of primary and secondary literature. In addition to learning the central tenets of the field, critical thinking and quantitative reasoning will be stressed through writing, discussion, and presentations.

Expectations of the Students

You attend class
You be prepared by reading the papers and being ready discuss them in class. Being mentally and physically ready for class is important. 
You be intellectually curious about the course.
You be respectful of the ideas and opinions of your classmates.
You be honest with yourself and with me about your performance in the course.


Class participation and readings: Close reading of a range of materials is a key skill to develop and enhance. We will spend much of our time when we are in a classroom discussing by bringing together our own experiences and observations with core concepts. 

Mid-term take-home exam: Our exam will be a mix of shorter and longer essays intend to test synthesis of material as well as your ability to interpret visual representation of data.

Research project: A main goal of the class is to build your experience in designing, conducting, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting research. You will work in groups to develop a testable hypothesis on urban ecology and then work to gather data. The projects will culminate in presentations and a concise written manuscript. Much unpacking of this assignment will occur through the semester.

Assignments of field exercises: In order to expose you to key methods and to give you exposure to options for your research projects, we will do multiple field excursions during class time (this is in addition to our two field studies days). These excursions will lead to short assignments that will involve data analysis and/or data visualizations.

Field journal: Throughout the semester, you will be expected to make observations and record thoughts in a journal to enhance your understanding of the urban environment.



Point Value

Due Date

Field Exercise #1


September 5

Field Exercise #2


September 23

Field Exercise #3


October 3

Field Exercise #4


October 24 
(will be completed in class)

Research Proposal: One-page prospectus


November 15

Urban Field Journal


November 29

Research Proposal: Presentation


December 3 or 6

Class Participation


End of semester

Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:



DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -


Course Summary:

Date Details Due