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Sustainable human-environment interactions


Sustainable human-environment interactions

Ornella Abollino (Lecturer)
Carmen Aina (Lecturer)
Francesca Barbero (Lecturer)
Enrico Caprio (Lecturer)
Luca Pietro Casacci (Lecturer)
Stefania Cerutti (Lecturer)
Massimo Delfino (Lecturer)
Beatrice Demarchi (Lecturer)
Livio Favaro (Lecturer)
Enrico Ferrero (Lecturer)
Cristina Giacoma (Lecturer)
Roberta Lombardi (Lecturer)
Francesca Marucco (Lecturer)
Marco Minella (Lecturer)
Roberto Pettinelli (Lecturer)
Sabrina Praduroux (Lecturer)
Michele Rosboch (Lecturer)
Alberto Salomone (Lecturer)
Fabrizia Santini (Lecturer)
Valeria Todeschini (Lecturer)
Cristina Videtta (Lecturer)
Achaz Von Hardenberg (Lecturer)
Stefano Rossa (Lecturer)
Daria Valente (Lecturer)
1st year
Teaching period
Second semester
Course disciplinary sector (SSD)
BIO/01 - general botany
BIO/03 - environmental and applied botany
BIO/05 - zoology
BIO/07 - ecology
CHIM/01 - analytical chemistry
FIS/06 - physics of the Earth and of the circumterrestrial medium
GEO/01 - paleontology and paleoecology
IUS/02 - comparative private law
L-ANT/10 - methods of archaeological research
M-GGR/02 - economic and political geography
SECS-P/02 - economic policy
Formal authority
Type of examination

Sommario del corso


Course objectives

The impact of humans on their environment has its roots in prehistory. Humans have been
experimenting with natural resources for millennia, at times during periods of sharp climate
change. By examining human-environment interactions throughout time, this module will provide important practical guidance on assessing current human impact on the environment, as well as on developing sustainable economies for the future, with a focus on marginal and rural areas.

1. To gain an understanding of the complexity of human responses to climate/environmental
changes and vice versa, from prehistory to present and considering both local and global
2. To be aware of the principal approaches for the conservation and restoration of habitats
and species, and for the characterisation of biodiversity using appropriate biological,
chemical, and physical methods 
3. To be able to reflect on the impact of human activities on the conservation of habitat and
species and on the possible avenues for a sustainable use of environmental resources in
the future: ecosystem services, mobilisation of local and indigenous knowledge, socio-
economic impacts, and international law regulations


Results of learning outcomes

By the end of the course, doctoral students will be able to: 
1. Search, find and critically evaluate relevant multidisciplinary scientific literature; summarise
and present to an audience the key points from a range of scientific papers.
2. Place the findings of selected studies in the wider context of cutting-edge research on
natural and anthropic systems in the past.
3. Collect, build, analyse and integrate datasets from different sources and research fields. 
4. Plan the application of the main multi-disciplinary approaches for the characterisation and
protection of biodiversity (plants, animals and microbial communities)
5. Critically evaluate the past and present impact of human activities on the conservation of
habitat and species, and learn how to develop optimal strategies for sustainability, taking
into account governance, policies, ecology of species and habitats, and society



The course will include the following themes:

1. Conservation Paleobiology. Palaeontological and zooarchaeological records as proxies
providing a context and guidance for the conservation of life on Earth. Inclusion of
geohistorical data in decision-making processes for conservation policies.

2. Climate change and human adaptation during the last 130,000 years, including key
transitions in human evolution (broadening of the spectrum of resources in hunter-gatherer
societies; emergence of agriculture and first “biotechnologies”; development of
urbanisation), their impact on the environment and potential consequences, also drawing
from historical and recent events (pandemic episodes).

3. Basic knowledge in zoology, botany, and ecology with particular stress on the impact of
human activities, with applied case studies; ecosystem services in marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments; methods of monitoring plant and animal biodiversity changes; principles and techniques for the ex situ conservation and long-term storage of genetic resources of wild and cultivated plants by means of gene and seed banking. 

4. Evaluation of human-environment interactions based on the chemical analysis of
environmental samples (air, water, soil, biological materials, and waste): main steps
(sampling, pretreatment, analysis, data elaboration and reporting), qualitative vs
quantitative analysis, absolute vs comparative methods, basic principles of instrumental
methods for the determination of organic and inorganic species and for the selection of the
most fit-for-purpose analytical approach.  

5. The role of law in environmental governance. Theory and theoretical models developed to
address the needs of environmental protection and sustainable development; standards
and decision-making procedures for ecosystem preservation, land use planning and
pollution control. 

6. Geographical perspective of environmental changes over spatial and temporal scales.
Physical and human geography integrated in landscape studies for sustainable
development, planning and management: different methodologies and tools, useful for rural
and marginal territories and territorialities


Course delivery

The course will take place over 80 hours distributed between january and June. Students must attend more than 70% of the lectures. 

Members of the PhD board will use a combination of frontal teaching (online and/or in presence), student/teamwork presentations, laboratory/field practicals. These core activities will be complemented by a cycle of “SUSTNET seminars” with invited speakers from partner institutions and collaborators. 


Learning assessment methods

At the end of the course, students will carry out an interdisciplinary literature review, prepare and deliver a 10-minute presentation on a topic of their choice, integrating a minimum of two of the themes from the programme

Suggested readings and bibliography


Scientific papers and books will be recommended during the lectures.

Here is a selection of useful preliminary readings: 

  • Boivin, N., Crowther, A. Mobilizing the past to shape a better Anthropocene. Nat Ecol Evol 5, 273–284 (2021).  
  • Dietl G.P. &Flessa K.W., 2011. Conservation paleobiology: putting the dead to work.
    Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 26(1): 30-37. 
  • Lyman  R.L. & Cannon K.P., 2017. Conservation biology and applied zooarchaeology.
    University of Utah Press, 288 pp.
  • Harris D. C. 2010. Quantitative Chemical Analysis. W.H.Freeman & Co Ltd, 720 pp.
  • Hsiang S. 2016. Climate Econometrics. Annual Review of Resource Economics, 8:1, 43-75.
  • Franch-Pardo, I., Napoletano, B. M., Bocco, G., & Barrasa, S. (2017). The role of
    geographical landscape studies for sustainable territorial planning. Sustainability, 9(11),



Relevant ERC sectors

  • LS7 Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment of Human Diseases
  • LS8 Environmental Biology, Ecology and Evolution
  • LS9 Biotechnology and Biosystems Engineering
  • PE4 Physical and Analytical Chemical Sciences
  • PE10 Earth System Science
  • SH2 Institutions, Governance and Legal Systems
  • SH3 Environment, Space and Population
  • SH6 The Study of the Human Past
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    Last update: 23/06/2022 11:21
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