Community Ecology Research


The teaching of Florian Altermatt and members of his group encompasses the following courses within the BIO, UWW and ESS curricula at University of Zurich:

→ EEE 318 (former BIO 309): Blockcourse Aquatic Ecology (12 ECTS)

Module Coordinator and course leader: Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt.

The course takes place in the 1st and 2nd quarter of every fall semester and is offered together with ETHZ (701-2437-01L, Dr. Anita Narwani responsible for ETHZ students) and takes place at Eawag in Dübendorf. UZH and ETHZ BIO students register here.

The course combines Limnology with Ecological and Evolutionary concepts. It contains a lecture part, an experimental part, two extensive determination courses as well as mandatory excursions. One of these excursions is a 3-days excursion (with overnight stays) to a highly diverse aquatic ecosystem (Glatt near Uzwil, SG). The lecture part covers aquatic organisms in lakes, rivers, and streams. After this course you will know the most important aquatic invertebrates and algae in Switzerland and the most important identification traits.

Educational objectives:
During this course you will get an overview of the world’s typical continental aquatic ecosystems. After this course you will be able

  • to describe how aquatic organisms have adapted to their habitat, and how the interactions (e.g. food web) between organisms work.
  • to explain the principles of doing research to observe interrelations in aquatic ecosystems.
  • to measure and interpret biological and physical data (e.g. during experiments, field work) and present the collected knowledge.

The course puts a strong focus on acquiring identification skills, and after this course you will be able to define the most important aquatic species groups (macroinvertebrates, micro-invertebrates and algae) in Switzerland and know their most important identification traits.

→ EEE353 (former UWW210): “Field Course in Biodiversity Assessment and Monitoring” (2 ECTS) (Elm 11th–16th August 2024)

Module Coordinator and course leader: Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt; the course is offered together with Prof. Dr. Owen Petchey.

The course is primarily open for UZH EEE, UWW, BIO, and  ESS students (ideally at Fachstudium-level; UWW 1st year MSc, EEE also Grundstudium). A flyer and a detailed course description can be downloaded as pdf.

Educational objectives:
By the end of the module, students

  • are able to plan, conduct and present small research projects on current topics in Ecology and Biodiversity sciences
  • know and have applied different field techniques to monitor biodiversity of different taxa (such as terrestrial insects, vascular plants, aquatic invertebrates)
  • are familiar with the most important aspects of planning and conducting biodiversity monitoring
  • have a first overview on the faunistics and identification of a few major taxonomic organismal groups (such as plants, butterflies, aquatic invertebrates)

→ EEE 356 (former BIO 307): Field course “Microbial ecology of alpine freshwater systems” (4 ECTS)

Module Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt. Course organizer, course leader and contact person: Dr. Andreas Bruder (SUPSI).

The course teaches basic practical techniques to study the taxonomy, biodiversity, and ecology of periphyton and fungal communities in alpine streams. Seminars will provide the background knowledge into taxonomy, ecology, molecular techniques and ecological applications. Periphyton includes communities of microscopic algae and cyanobacteria growing on various substrates. A very diverse group which performs important ecosystem functions as primary producers. Freshwater fungi are a diverse community of microscopic fungi developing in dead organic matter and performing important ecosystem functions as decomposers.

The 1-week field course takes place in the first half of August (4th to 9th August 2024). Registration and more information can be found here.

Educational objectives:
The students learn basic techniques to study the taxonomy and ecology of both organism groups through practical work and to the ecological background and applications through seminars:

  • Fieldwork: techniques for sampling periphyton and fungi from various streams and lakes of Val Piora and for the physicochemical characterization of the sampling sites.
  • Labwork: sample preparation, microscopic identification, working with dichotomous keys for both organism groups. Standard DNA-sequencing techniques are not part of the course.
  • Data analysis: interpretation of diversity and community composition with knowledge of the physicochemical conditions of the streams and lakes, and of the scientific literature.
  • Seminars: introduction to the diversity and ecology of periphyton and fungi in streams and lakes. Introduction to molecular techniques and their use in taxonomic studies and ecological applications.

→ BIO 337 Freshwater environmental and ecosystem modelling (3 ECTS)

This course is led by Dr. Luca Carraro (independent Ambizione fellow in the Altermatt lab). Fall Semester, Tuesday 8–10 am at UZH.

The course provides students with concepts and tools to understand and model environmental and ecological processes in freshwater systems. Specifically, the course deals with spatial and mechanistic mathematical models that integrate physical and biological aspects in order to provide a holistic picture of freshwater ecosystem dynamics. While the main focus of the course is on freshwater ecosystems (especially on riverine networks), the concepts and tools presented are also relevant to general theoretical ecology and landscape ecology. It is organized around lectures complemented by modelling applications.

Requirements: For advanced Bachelor and Master students, specifically targeting both BIO and ESS students.
A sufficient background in mathematics and programming (R language) is required, and involves successful completion of courses MAT182, MAT183, PHY117 or PHY118, and BIO134 or BIO144.


→ BIO 520 Master in Ecology and UWW MSc project (Master thesis and Integrated knowledge in Ecology)

The Altermatt lab offers MSc projects for BIO and UWW students from University of Zurich at a regular basis. Besides a standing list of possible project themes we are open for further projects that fit in the general framework and interest of the group. Most projects use a combination of conceptual, empirical and statistical approaches, and a solid background in quantitative sciences is required. When interested in doing a BIO or UWW MSc project/thesis in the Altermatt lab, contact Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt in due time (ideally about 6–9 months ahead), sending him a short letter of motivation, an updated CV and an excerpt of your past credits and grades received in your studies.

→ BIO 357 Research Internship in Ecology (4 ETCS)

The Research Internship in Ecology gives students the opportunity to carry out a small project in an active research group, and the Altermatt lab offers such projects on a regular basis. Availability and project details as well as method of assessment are directly negotiated with Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt.