Available in 2022
Course code



10 units


6000 level

Course handbook


Sustainability and Ecosystem Health offers a systematic examination of an emergent paradigm in environmental management, ecosystem health and resilience thinking. It explores these concepts via the theoretical perspectives and methodologies of complexity and transdisciplinarity. The ecosystem health paradigm examines environmental issues using key indicators of system health such as integrity, resilience, vigour, diversity, stability and adaptability. Major environmental issues are analysed from a complex adaptive systems perspective with humans and their institutions seen as integral parts of socio-ecological systems, i.e. a 'humans in the ecosystem' approach. The Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia provides a rich setting for case studies at the regional level. Other case studies are explored, including human induced climate change and global warming at the biosphere scale. Links between complex adaptive socio-ecological systems at varied scales are also explored. All case studies are used to highlight interdependencies and opportunities for diagnosing, maintaining or restoring ecosystem and human health and resilience.



  • Trimester 1 - 2022

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course students will be able to:

1. Articulate the difference between complicated systems and complex adaptive systems;

2. Explain why complex adaptive systems change the way they do;

3. Use ecosystem health and resilience theory to interpret, understand and analyse real world case studies;

4. Justify approaches to managing complex adaptive systems;

5. Critique the management of complex adaptive systems and recommend best practice approaches that respond to the behaviour of complex adaptive systems;

6. Explain the relationship between resilience and sustainability.


Theme 1: Basic Concepts

  1. Resilience: and indicator of sustainability

Theme 2: Complex Adaptive Systems

  1. Ecological and social systems as linked complex adaptive systems
  2. Feedback, thresholds and tipping points
  3. Panarchy and scale
  4. Resilience, adaptability and vulnerability
  5. Sustainability indicators: a systems approach

Theme 3: Case Study in Sustainability

  1. Social learning, adaptive management and governance for ecosystem health and sustainability
  2. The Hunter region of NSW, Australia

Theme 4: Creating Sustainable Futures

  1. Individual case studies identified by students

Assessment items

Presentation: Audio/visual Blackboard Collaborate presentation and facilitation of discussion board

Essay: Essay

Report: Applied major report

Contact hours


Self-Directed Learning

Online 10 hour(s) per Week for Full Term

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.