Biology 5131 - 2008


Dr. Douglas Morris

Office: CB4017

Lab: CB3019


Office Hours:

Tuesday: 15:00-16:00 & Thursday 15:30-16:30 (7 January - 3 April 2008 only)

Other Times by Appointment

Classes: Tuesday 08:30-11:20, Room CB4122.


Introduction Course Objectives
Evaluation Class Project
Report Due Date Report Style
Final Term Report Class Discussions
Tentative Timetable Scientific Review
Theory and Evolution on the Web


This seminar/reading course is designed for the student who wants an introduction to theoretical ecology and a sampling of current problems and approaches. Course instruction will concentrate on assigned readings and student reviews of the contemporary literature. Background lectures may supplement assigned readings. The course will emphasize concepts as well as empirical and experimental approaches to theoretical ecology. Students are expected to complete all readings and assignments, to take turns as discussion leaders, and to participate fully in all discussions.

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Course Objectives:

1. To help students think about conceptual issues in ecology and evolution.

2. To introduce students to a broad array of relevant and contemporary issues in the study of theoretical ecology.

3. To expose students to the set of essential concepts, theories, and models required to be "literate" in the study of evolution and ecology.

4. To inspire students to question and discuss current concepts in evolution and ecology.

5. To assist students in developing the skills, discipline, confidence, and study habits necessary for self-instruction in this and other areas of biology.

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Presentations, reports, and discussion - 25%; Class project - 50%; Poster - 25%. There may be one or more in-class quizzes that do not contribute to the course grade.

Performance will be evaluated regularly. The evaluation will be based on the student's grasp of important issues, logical reasoning, non-trivial criticisms of the material, and the ability to solve ecological problems. Students are encouraged to share their ideas and their questions.

All students will be required to lead discussions on assigned readings, to evaluate their own performance and that of their peers, and to review and critique contemporary literature. Students will work collaboratively on the class project, and prepare a poster in lieu of a final examination.

Written or oral reports may be assigned at intervals during the course. Evaluation of these reports will be based on the student's ability to synthesize a field of enquiry, to apply that synthesis to a particular problem, or to develop significant new insights into ecological theory. The reports should not, in general, be restatements of review papers. Rather they will require the student to apply what is known (and what is not known) to an unresolved question. Evaluation will be devoted equally to clarity of presentation, rigour of treatment, and suitability of the report to the assignment.

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Class Project:

All students will participate in the class project. The theme will be chosen early in the term NO LATER THAN 22 JANUARY 2008. The project will take one of two forms. 1, a computer simulation of an interesting and unresolved question in theoretical ecology or 2, a rigorous review of a key unresolved or confusing theme in theoretical ecology. The project must be approved by the course instructor NO LATER THAN 22 JANUARY 2008. Students will review their progress with the course instructor weekly. A final report, written as a manuscript submission to "Evolutionary Ecology Research" must be submitted for grading no later than 1 April 2008. Authorship on the manuscript will reflect student contributions. All students are expected to contribute equally. Authorship should be either ordered alphabetically or randomly. If contributions are unequal, however, the order of authorship must reflect the relative contribution by each author, and students must submit an addendum explaining each author's respective contribution.

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Report Due Date:

The class project report (MS) is due no later than 12:00 25 March 2008 and final laminated posters must be mounted in the Centennial Building no later than 12:00 1 April 2008. Posters submitted later than 1 April 2008, or a class project submitted after 25 March 2008, will not be accepted for grading.

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Report Style:

Be concise. Use the active voice. Organize your thoughts before you begin writing. Omit needless or redundant words. Express your thoughts as clearly as possible even if it means re-writing the report.

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Each student must prepare an instructional poster in the general field of theoretical ecology. Students are responsible for all aspects including content, design, printing, laminating, and display in the Department of Biology.

The general theme of each poster will be "understanding theoretical ecology". The poster should be designed as an educational display of an important ecological theory. Suitable posters would include themes such as "The Evolution of Habitat Selection", "Models of Spatial Distribution", "Trade-offs in Reproduction", "The Implications of Optimal Patch Use", "Updates to the Marginal Value Theorem", "Speciation via Adaptive Dynamics", "The Influence of Predatory Risk on Foraging", "Unexpected Indirect Effects of Predators", "Trait-mediated Coexistence", "Continuous Evolutionary Games", "Stability at a Fitness Minimum", "Understanding the Fitness-Generating Function". Posters of exceptional quality will become permanent displays in the Department of Biology. Students must receive the instructor's approval of their proposed poster theme no later than 12 February 2008. The scope of the posters, and their progress, will be discussed in class.

Students should familiarize themselves with conference instructions on the preparation of scientific posters. General rules include the following:

All posters will be presented electronically to the class on 25 March 2008. If your poster is selected for display, you will need to edit it as required, then print and laminate a final version for display in the Department of Biology. You may be required to sign a release allowing your poster to be displayed. The final laminated poster must be approved for display by the course instructor, as well as the display location. Displayed posters will form part of a new permanent collection of educational materials in the Department of Biology. To ensure longevity of your poster, you should choose a topic and message that is unlikely to change dramatically with time.

Please note: The term report is a term project and not a final examination. Students will be ineligible to write a special examination as outlined in general regulation VII in the Lakehead University Calendar.

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Students are required to lead and to participate in weekly discussions. Typically, discussions will consist of a student-led over-view of the assigned reading followed by a student-led review of a current sample of the literature (independent study) as well as a workshop aimed at the class project or developing tests of the week's concept(s). Please ensure that you have completed and critically evaluated each reading assignment before the discussion period.

The 25 March 2008 discussion will be devoted to electronic presentations of posters. The presentations will be open to the public.

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Tentative Timetable 2008

Jan. 8 Chapter 1: Introduction

Jan. 15 Chapter 2: How populations cohere: five rules for cooperation

Jan. 22 Chapter 3: Single-species dynamics

Jan. 29 Chapters 4 & 5: Metapopulations and their spatial dynamics.

Feb. 5 Chapter 6: Plant population dynamics

Feb. 12 Chapter 7: Interspecific competition and multispecies coexistence

Feb. 18 - Feb. 22 Study Week - No Classes

Feb. 26 Chapters 8 & 9: Diversity and stability in ecological communities. Communities: patterns

Mar. 4 Chapter 10: Dynamics of infectious disease.

Mar. 11 Chapter 11: Fisheries

Mar. 18 Chapters 12 & 13: A doubly green revolution: ecology and food production. Conservation biology: unsolved problems and their policy implications

Mar. 25 Student presentations

Apr. 1 Chapters 14 &15: Climate change and conservation biology. Unanswered questions and why they matter

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Scientific Review:

As part of your independent studies, you may be asked to write a scientific review of a recent paper or manuscript in the field of conceptual/evolutionary ecology. Your written review should include the following:

Your review should be concise, candid, and non-offensive. Criticize the science, not the author(s). Include positive as well as negative criticisms. Ask yourself, is this review fair, does it tell the editor how to evaluate publication, would I respect these these comments if I received this review, and would it be okay if the authors knew my identity? If your answer to any of these questions is "no", revise the review.

Your review should begin with the name of the authors, the title of the article, and its reference number. Follow with a short paragraph placing the work into the context of the discipline and research field, then follow this with a paragraph or two giving an over-view of the paper to demonstrate that you understand the main ideas and approaches. Do not indicate whether the paper should be published or not (this is the responsibility of the editor - your specific comments to the editor would be included in your cover letter). Follow the introductory paragraph with 2-3 paragraphs highlighting the main strengths/weaknesses in the paper. Finish your review with specific suggestions for improvement (you can also highlight passages that are especially relevant or exciting), then type and sign your name at the end.

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Theory and Evolution on the Web

Do you belong to a scientific society? Maybe you should join the CSEE/SCEE.

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