Soil Biology

Course content

Week 1: The role of soil organisms in the biosphere (lectures and discussion classes): Physical and chemical complexity of soils (from soil particles and aggregates to the landscape); life in water films and soil pores; nutrient gradients.
Week 2-3: The diversity of soil organisms (lectures and demonstrations): Bacteria; fungi; protozoa; nematodes; mites; insects; millipedes; centipedes; isopods; enchytraeids; earthworms.
Week 4: The decomposition process (lectures and discussion classes): The fast and slow pathway (bacterial and fungal based); top-down and bottom up regulation of microbial biomass; energetics of decomposition in soil; quality of the different types of organic matter in soils.
Week 5: Aboveground-belowground interactions via the plant (lectures and discussion classes): Plant nutrient acquisition from soil; mycorrhiza; root exudates; herbivores above- and belowground; signalling between plant roots and rhizosphere organisms.
Week 6: Diversity and functioning of soil communities (lectures and discussion classes): The soil food web; taxonomic and functional diversity; redundancy; resistance and resilience; diversity vs. number of species and functional groups.
Week 7: Student presentation of experimental work and guest lectures.


MSc Programme in Biology
MSc Programme in Agriculture

MSc Programme in Biology with a minor subject

Learning outcome

To provide an understanding of how the soil organisms drive and regulate the processes in the complex soil environment. This includes an understanding of 1) the huge diversity of soil organisms spanning from bacteria, fungi and protozoa to beetles and earthworms; 2) the factors governing this diversity and 3) the importance of organism interactions for the soil processes.


Students will obtain knowledge and understanding of:

  • the physical and chemical properties of soils and how the soil environment forms the basis for the organisms living there
  • the important organism groups inhabiting the soil and their interaction with each other and with plants
  • the impact of soil organisms on important processes in soil (e.g. decomposition, nitrogen transformations and plant growth
  • methods and techniques used for investigating soil ecological issues


Students should become able to:

  • Describe and identify different important soil organisms (microfauna, mesofauna, macrofauna) to relevant taxonomic level
  • Analyze the chemical composition of soils including the organic fraction, the inorganic ions, the association of these components to the soil particles, and how this association affects the turnover dynamics of the components.
  • Analyze how soils develop differently in different biomes and how this dependency affects soil organisms.
  • Work experimentally with soil and its organisms (this work includes formulation of hypotheses, planning and performing experiments, analysis and statistical testing of the data and reporting of the results).


Students should become able to:

  • Evaluate the effects of human activities on the soil environment as well as the functions soils provide as services to the surrounding environment and to the human society.
  • Analyze, put into perspective, and criticize original research papers.
  • Design, perform and critically analyze basic experiments addressing ecological and biological issues
  • Perform effective written and oral presentation of acquired knowledge and ideas.

Each of the weeks 1-6 include two lectures (Tuesday 9-12, Thursday 9-10), a discussion class (Thursday 10-12) and an experimental project (Thursday 13-17). In some weeks lectures with demonstrations will occur instead of the discussion classes.

See Absalon.

An introductory course in systems ecology and microbiology is an advantage.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination, 2 hours (multiple choice) under invigilation
Oral examination, 15 minutes
The written examination is a general test in learning outcome.

The oral examination is based on the written assignment on the practical experimental project. The oral performance weights 100 % of this part-exam.

The written exam weights 70% and the oral exam weights for 30% of the final grade.

The written exam and the oral exam must be passed separately but they need not to be passed in the same exam period.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners
Criteria for exam assessment

In order to obtain the grade 12 the student should convincingly and accurately demonstrate the knowledge, skills and competences described under Learning Outcome

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 2,5
  • Excursions
  • 8
  • Preparation
  • 123,5
  • Lectures
  • 12
  • Colloquia
  • 14
  • Project work
  • 30
  • Theory exercises
  • 14
  • Guidance
  • 2
  • English
  • 206,0