2023-2024 / BIOL2038-1

Soil ecology and microbiology


25h Th, 10h Pr, 1d FW

Number of credits

 Bachelor in biology3 crédits 


Monique Carnol

Language(s) of instruction

French language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the first semester, review in January


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

Table of contents

This course covers three main topics:

  • Module 1: How to do ecology? - The scientific method
  • Module 2: Soil ecology
  • Module 3: Microbial ecology and biogeochemical cycles

Course description
Based on fundamental ecology, taught in the 2nd bloc of the bachelor, the student is encouraged to explore the significance of the science of ecology. This is followed by a reflection on methodological approaches in ecological studies, in particular sampling strategies. The teaching lays the foundations of the scientific method, applied in other courses and useful for the realisation of the master thesis. Soil ecology deals with the abiotic and biotic components of soils, as well as the interactions between these two components. The last part of the course focuses on the role of microorganisms in biogeochemical cycles, the consequences of their activities and some practical applications.

All the themes are discussed during the field trip and during practicals.


As part of your university education, you can legally dispose of the materials made available to you (pdf Power Points, videos, podcasts, etc.) protected by copyright. These materials are intended only to be used by students as part of their studies at the University of Liège. No other use or distribution is authorized, under penalty of constituting a violation of the law of June 30, 1994 relating to copyright. If the resources were to be freely accessible on the web, the person responsible would be exposed to legal proceedings.

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

Each module and practicals include specific objectives (present in the course notes and on the PowerPoint slides), specifying student mastery at the end of the course. These specific objectives clearly identify the requirements of the assessments.

General objectives:

Knowledge: Acquiring basic knowledge on:

  • The nature of ecology
  • Methods in ecology
  • The scientific method and experimental design
  • The physico-chemical environment of soils
  • Soil biota
  • Soil formation and classification
  • Microbial diversity and metabolism
  • The role of microorganisms in carbon, nitrogen and sulphur cycles ; environmental consequences of their activities ; the influence of human activities

Expertise: Application of theory to real situations:

  • Understanding and use of specific terms related to experimental design
  • Use of theory to analyse, criticize and improve an experimental protocol
  • Comprehension of the influence of soil physico-chemical characteristics on water and nutrient availability, the presence and activity of microorganisms
  • Understanding microbial processes in various environments and the reciprocal interaction between environmental factors and microorganisms.

Developing attitudes:

  • Realisation of the diversity and complimentarity of study methods, as well as of the importance of a rigorous scientific approach
  • Awareness of spatial and temporal variability of ecological processes
  • Critical approach to scientific literature
  • Practice of group work, analysis and communication
  • Recognition of soil complexity and the importance of biotic and abiotic components for plant nutrition and soil functioning
  • Consciousness of the variability, complexity and importance of microbial processes in the environment

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

Basic notions in microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry and ecology are essential to understanding the course. Reading scientific English (scientific paper) is required for one learning activity.

Planned learning activities and teaching methods

Lectures (power point support) are based on the principles of 'active lectures'. Presentations include questions, minute papers, case studies and class discussions. The link between theory and practice for the methods in ecology is established through cooperative analysis of scientific papers (if possible, depending on the number of students). Soil ecology lessons are deepened through practicals (in small groups) in the laboratory. For biogeochemical cycles, examples, case studies or small videos are included into the lectures. Autoevaluations (formative multiple choice questions) are available via eCampus. The field excursions illustrates current studies and soil characteristics in forests, and the students conceive and carry out an experiment whose soil samples will be analyzed during the practical work.

The integration of lectures and various activities aims at a deep understanding of the topic during the quadrimester. Student's personal investment during lectures and activities will lead to a work reduction during the exam session and also leads to better knowledge retention on the longer term.

Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)

Face-to-face course

Additional information:

Face-to-face: Interactive lectures, cooperative exercise, field trip, practical work.


Recommended or required readings

All useful resources for the course are available online via eCampus (partial course notes, power point illustrations, supporting documents, autoevaluations, information, discussions,...). Note: downloading the documents is more efficient with a high speed connexion. Computer rooms are available on campus  and the university has an important WiFi network.

The provided information needs to be completed by personal notes from lectures.

An optional reading list is provided to students. Additional information can be obtained from reference books available in the laboratory of Plant and Microbial Ecology (on appointment only).

Exam(s) in session

Any session

- In-person

written exam ( multiple-choice questionnaire, open-ended questions )

Written work / report

Additional information:

This course is organized in the first quadrimester, Q1. The exam is in January. The second session takes place in August / September.

Evaluation consists of :

  • An appreciation of the student's participation during the excursion and practicals (group report, 20% of final score). The date for submitting the report is set in consultation with the students. Practical work and its evaluation are only organized once during the academic year. The mark obtained for the report is deemed to be linked to each of the examination sessions.
  • A written exam (January) on topics from lectures, the field trip and practicals (80% of final score).
If the exam includes multiple choice questions (depending on the number of students registered), a correction for random answers will be applied to the results. The precise procedures for the examination and grading will be explained to students during the course.

In the event of a second session, a partial exemption for module 1 is offered to students who achieve a minimum of 12/20 for this part. This partial exemption is valid only for the current academic year.

REMINDER (see general examination rules): Cheating or plagiarism are severely sanctioned, leading to a score of 0/20 at the exam. Participation at practicals and excursions, as well as the submission of reports is mandatory (students failing to comply with this rule may be declared inadmissible at the exam). Any delay in the submission of requested work results in a score of 0/20.

NOTE for students taking the course a second time in 23-24: If you have already participated in the field trip and the practical work, your participation is no longer compulsory, but the material is still part of the examination material. Please let your teacher know if you want to participate or not. If you do not participate, the written exam in January will count for 100% of the final mark.

Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course

The course is given in the first quadrimester. Practical work and the implementation of an experiment during the field excursion are done in groups. Practical work is given in 2 series (2 half-days per series). Students should take their lab coats and a calculator (or one computer per group).

The presence of students is required and compulsory for the practical work (afternoons 27,28,29/11/2023; 1/12/2023) and the field trip (full day 11 October 2023). Absence from practical work and/or field excursion makes the student non-deliberable for the 1st and 2nd sessions.

SEE: your course schedule CELCAT

Improvements are made to the course each year based on the evolution of knowledge and formal and informal feedback from students.


Office: by appointment only (email, discussion forum eCampus, phone, before/after lectures)

Laboratoire d'Ecologie Végétale et Microbienne, Institut de Botanique B22,  Chemin de la Vallée, 4, 4000 Liège, Belgique (3rd floor)
Prof. Monique Carnol : Tel. 04/3663845 (bureau) ;  E-mail : m.carnol@uliege.be

Association of one or more MOOCs

Items online

Link eCampus
Link eCampus