Research course

Ecosystems and Sustainability

Open University · Department of Design, Development, Environment and Materials

Entry requirements

PhD: Entry requirements vary according to the research topic and/or specific studentships. The normal minimum entrance requirement is an upper second class honours degree or masters degree, relevant to the proposed area of study, from a recognised higher education institution in the UK. You should also have experience of academic research in the previous four years, normally in the form of either a masters degree in research methods, an undergraduate degree with a research element in the final year, or work-related experience with evidence through research reports. If you have a qualification from outside the UK, or you are not sure if you meet the entry requirements, please contact us by email before applying. MPhil: Applicants should normally hold, or be expecting to obtain, a bachelors degree with at least first or upper-second class honours, or an equivalent qualification. However, entry requirements differ between academic areas, and sometimes a taught masters degree is also required. The research topic pages (in the menu on the right of our Research areas page) give details of specific entry requirements, and provide contact details to discuss your suitability for the MPhil with a member of academic staff.

Months of entry


Course content

Research in the Ecosystems and Sustainability area has access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities in the ecosystems laboratories. There are three research themes:

  • Biodiversity and conservation
  • Biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology
  • Climate change and ecosystem services.

Key facts

  • Research in the School is funded by a diverse range of external funding bodies, including the NERC, the European Union, philanthropic charities (e.g. The Leverhulme Foundation; Esmee Fairbairn Foundation), Defra and the Royal Society.
  • The School hosts the Evolution MegaLab, an innovative project bringing evolution into classrooms and iSPOT aiding the identification of organisms worldwide.
  • Members of the discipline regularly publish in high-impact journals such as Science, Nature, PNAS and Proceedings of the Royal Society.


The ecosystems labs are an integrated resource supporting the work of the Ecosystems and Sustainability area. Instrumentation has been built up over several years and are housed in the Ecosystems Laboratory building.

Facilities include a controlled environment laboratory for monitoring model ecosystems. A set of controlled environment cabinets (4 Snijders Microclima 1750) allow for programmable lighting, temperature to below 0ºC, humidity levels and CO2 control to sub-ambient levels as well as fumigation with pollutants such as ozone.

Growth trials are also undertaken in greenhouses, polytunnels, in controlled water regime mesocosms or under grow-lamps as appropriate. Additional equipment used in monitoring experiments includes fast-response laser-based methane analyser to ppb levels; CO2 analyser (IRGA) capable of field respiration measurements; GCs to measure a range of atmospheric constituents. There are several other laboratories that allow for the preparation of samples for analysis and to engage in soil physics work.

Field research is supported by state-of-the-art GPS (Leica R1200) and surveying kit (Leica T750), which allow field locations to be mapped and relocated with centimetre accuracy. The group sustains many long-term field survey programmes using this kit plus an array of logging sensors to monitor soil hydrology.

Fees and funding

Please see The Open University website

Qualification and course duration


distance learning
variable months
full time
36 months
part time
72 months


part time
24 months
distance learning
variable months
full time
15 months

Course contact details

Michelle Aitken
+44 (0)1908 332943