What are the key ecology concepts all Intro Bio students should learn?

When I started at Georgia Tech, the “large” (80-90 student) course I was involved in was General Ecology. My first year there, I co-taught the course with my colleague Lin Jiang. I did what is probably fairly typical: I asked him for the materials he used when he last taught the course and then modified those. So, it was pretty eye-opening to me when, after that first semester, we (“we” being the people involved in teaching General Ecology and related courses) decided that we should try to assess what our students were learning. We couldn’t find a good ecology concept assessment*, so we decided to try to create our own. That involved deciding what the key concepts were that we wanted all students who had completed ecology to know. Coming up with that list was incredibly useful and changed the way I taught the next time.

I’ve been thinking about this again as I spend more time thinking about how to teach ecology to introductory biology students here at Michigan. I’ve thought about this before – we recently overhauled the course, and that involved a lot of thought about what to teach. But I feel like I want to think more about the core concepts again. I want to revisit the core ecology concepts that my GaTech colleagues and I came up with for a sophomore-level (that is, 2nd year) ecology course and figure out how to modify those for a freshman-level (that is, 1st year) course. With this post, I’m hoping to think more carefully about what the core concepts are, and to get feedback from others about the list I came up with.

First, I’ll explain a little more about the Intro Bio course I teach. It is a large enrollment (~550 students per semester) course, with many first-semester freshmen in it. In my experience, most of these students have had no prior exposure to ecology. (Something I am very interested in doing is better assessing what they know about ecology when they start the course. My impression is that many of them think that ecology is pretty much just David Attenborough videos.) The one-semester course covers ecology, evolution, and genetics, so we’re pretty constrained in terms of the amount of time we have to devote to any one thing. For that and other reasons, I am definitely in favor of covering less material more deeply.

Second, I want to explain my motivations for considering this a little more. Some of them are big picture. In light of the current political climate in the US, I’ve been thinking more about what I should be doing differently in my class. As I said, for many of my students, this is their first exposure to ecology as a science. What do they need to learn to be informed citizens – for example, to be able to evaluate the information they hear about global climate change?**

But there are also less lofty motivations. In trying to be consistent about how we teach things across semesters, we sometimes email about a particular topic. This recently happened with ecosystem engineers, including a discussion about specific examples that we should or should not use. My response to that email thread was to wonder why, given the very limited time we have to cover ecology in this course, we are teaching about ecosystem engineers at all. Is it one of the most foundational topics to teach?***

With that background, I’ll now move on to present the list from Georgia Tech (which, again, was designed for a higher level course), then will list the general topics I currently teach in Intro Bio, and then will give my ideas for a list of core ecology concepts to cover in Intro Bio. (Brian did a poll a couple of years ago on what an upper level community ecology course should cover.)

The list from Georgia Tech for a 2nd year course (note: this list was a collaborative effort by several ecologists at Georgia Tech):

  1. Organisms are adapted to their environments, but are constrained by tradeoffs. In addition, genotypes differ in their specific ecological requirements.
  2. The distribution and abundance of a species is determined by its niche, dispersal patterns, and interactions with other organisms.
  3. Populations grow exponentially (or geometrically) at first, but growth is eventually constrained by density dependence.
  4. Changes in population size reflect the sum of births, deaths, immigration, and emigration.
  5. Individuals, populations, and communities are affected by both the physical environment and by interactions with other organisms.
  6. Competition, predation, parasitism, and mutualism are the four major types of interspecific interactions that structure communities.
  7. Competition occurs between individuals (of the same or different species) that share a common resource; competitive exclusion can be the result.
  8. Succession is the change in species composition over time and results from both abiotic and biotic factors, and disturbance regimes.
  9. Species richness is influenced by variation in species pools, colonization rates, abiotic conditions, and species interactions.
  10. Species richness is expected to be greatest at intermediate levels of disturbance; species richness at low levels of diversity is limited by interspecific competition. (I think reading that just caused Jeremy to have a heart attack. Or maybe it means he’ll no longer want to blog with me. Probably both. It’s been fun, folks.)
  11. The sun is the ultimate source of energy for most ecosystems; primary production by autotrophs provides the energy for all ecosystems.
  12. Ecological systems show high degrees of connection, but species do not exist for the benefit of each other.
  13. Food webs reflect trophic interactions among organisms; the degree of connectivity and redundancy of food webs determines their resilience.
  14. Nutrients cycle repeatedly through an ecosystem, whereas energy flows through an ecosystem.
  15. Adding or removing a keystone predator can have dramatic consequences for the entire food web.

(I can’t remember if we intentionally limited ourselves to 15 concepts or if that’s just the way it worked out.)

Right now, I think the most glaring omission from the above list is something that relates to climate. I would like students to understand how we know that the climate is changing rapidly and that humans are responsible.

Okay, moving on to the list of the general topics I aim to cover in Intro Bio.**** When I taught Intro Bio last fall, the lectures I taught (80 min each) were:

  1. Behavioral ecology
  2. Fossil record, history of life, and human evolution (yeah, that’s not too much to cover in 80 minutes!)
  3. Population ecology
  4. Species interactions I: predation, parasitism, and herbivory
  5. Species interactions II: competition and mutualism
  6. Food webs, indirect effects, and trophic cascades
  7. Broad scale patterns of diversity
  8. Emerging infectious diseases & viruses (you could certainly argue this is disproportionate coverage for diseases, but I think they are a great way to cover a lot of fundamental concepts in a way that is engaging to students)
  9. Ecosystem ecology I: energy flow & productivity
  10. Ecosystem ecology II: nitrogen and phosphorus cycling
  11. Ecosystem ecology III: carbon cycling and global climate change
  12. Human impacts on evolution
  13. Human impacts on the environment

Certainly there’s the potential for shifting things around there. This year, they split topic 2 into two lectures, which makes a lot of sense. (I don’t remember now what was condensed to make room for that shift.)

Okay, so, now for my list of key ecology concepts to teach at the Intro Bio level (note that I’m skipping the ones that are primarily evolutionary). For this, I’m mostly modifying the list for a higher level course that my GT colleagues and I came up with, but I’m also adding in things based on what I’ve taught over the past few years, based on this CourseSource Ecology Learning Framework (see the first footnote below for more), and based on comments on this old blog post of mine on recent major conceptual advances in ecology.

Key Ecology Concepts for First Year College Students:

  1. Organisms are adapted to their environments; species differ in their specific ecological requirements.
  2. The distribution and abundance of a species is determined by the physical habitat, dispersal patterns, and interactions with other organisms.
  3. Populations grow rapidly at first, but growth is eventually constrained by density dependence.
  4. Changes in population size reflect the sum of births, deaths, immigration, and emigration.
  5. Competition, predation, parasitism, commensalism and mutualism are the five major types of interspecific interactions that structure communities.
  6. Competition occurs between individuals (of the same or different species) that share a common resource; competitive exclusion or evolution can result.
  7. Positive interactions such as mutualism are common in nature; with mutualisms, each partner pays a cost for participating, but the benefits outweigh the costs
  8. Predator-prey and host-parasite interactions can influence behavior, vital rates, population sizes, and evolution.
  9. Adding or removing a keystone predator can have dramatic consequences for the entire food web.
  10. The number and kinds of species in an area change over short periods of time, as a result of abiotic factors (including disturbances) and biotic factors; this is known as succession.
  11. The number and kinds of species in an area change over long (geologic) periods of time, as a result of abiotic factors and biotic factors, including speciation and (mass) extinctions.
  12. Human activities are causing the number and kinds of species in particular areas to change dramatically, through habitat modification, exploitation, the movement of species, and extinctions.
  13. Species richness is influenced by variation in species pools, colonization rates, abiotic conditions, and species interactions.
  14. Humans use biodiversity in many different ways, including for aesthetic value, food, drug discovery, ecosystem services, and bio-inspired design.
  15. The sun is the ultimate source of energy for most ecosystems; primary production by autotrophs provides the energy for all ecosystems.
  16. Ecological systems show high degrees of connection, but species do not exist for the benefit of each other.
  17. Food webs reflect trophic interactions among organisms; changes in abundance at one trophic level can be reflected in changes in abundance of organisms at other trophic levels.
  18. Nutrients cycle repeatedly through an ecosystem, whereas energy flows through an ecosystem.
  19. The climate is changing rapidly due to the burning of fossil fuels by humans; this is expected to have profound consequences for many species.
  20. Many ecological processes and interactions are mediated by microbes.
  21. Evolution can happen on contemporary timescales, with important consequences for ecological interactions.

That’s my first crack at it. 21 is probably on the high end, but, with 13 80-minute class periods, that works out to about 50 minutes per concept, so I don’t think it’s too many. (We also have one discussion a week where we work on especially challenging concepts, like “energy flows but matter cycles”.) I would love to hear suggestions for things to add or to remove (but if you suggest something to add, it would be good to suggest what to remove!) What do you think are the most important concepts to cover with students in their first exposure to ecology? How would your list differ from the one I laid out?

 

* I know that Michelle Smith’s group at Maine has been working on one. I’m really looking forward to seeing the final version! And I recently learned about this CourseSource Ecology Learning Framework which was created by some ESA members (specifically: Jennifer Doherty, Diane Ebert-May, and Bob Pohlad).

** Related to this, I’ve realized that I need to change what I teach when I talk about human evolution. I am much less concerned that they know the shared derived traits of hominids than that they are able to evaluate claims related to biological aspects of race.

*** I could make arguments in either direction on this, but, right now, I think ecosystem engineers are probably not something I will teach about in Intro Bio in the future.

**** There are skills I want them to acquire, too – especially how to read figures and how to think evaluate information they are presented with. I also would like for them to develop a general appreciation for and understanding of biodiversity. I think we’re doing a pretty good job with helping them to develop figure-reading skills. I don’t think we do a great job with biodiversity at the moment.

27 thoughts on “What are the key ecology concepts all Intro Bio students should learn?

  1. I noticed that “Competition, predation, parasitism, and mutualism are the four major types of interspecific interactions that structure communities” missed out commensalism, but it’s included in your second list. Commensalism is really important but under-appreciated. I’d also add that I think there’s a big difference between “predation” and “herbivory”, though the two often get lumped together. If anything herbivory is more akin to parasitism. The traditional “+ – 0” scenario for exploring pairwise ecological outcomes of interactions is still a useful framework for this.

    • Yes, that’s exactly why I added in commensalism this time. In the years since we created that list at Georgia Tech, I’ve decided that, as you said, commensalism is important ecologically and it’s a really useful comparison for students.

      I agree with you that herbivory is different than predation and that you could argue it’s more like parasitism. How to cover the +/- interactions isn’t clear to me. This is especially true because some students are confused if you don’t cover the nuance, and some students are confused if you do. Something that is really neat is the questions students come up with in their discussion sections related to this. They often make me think more carefully about distinctions, which is really useful.

      • For +-0 I give them some examples then give them some sets of species interactions and ask them to work out the outcomes (positive, negative or neutral) for each species. Ants, aphids, labybirds, caterpillars and plants in a five-way interaction is an interesting one.

      • What level students do you do that with, Jeff? A 5 way interaction does indeed sound challenging (but I bet a lot of students would rise to the challenge). One of my favorite ways of getting at this is to show students figures and ask them to interpret them in terms of whether the interaction is positive, negative, or neutral. (I think this might be the same thing you are saying you do.)

        One challenge I’ve run into with that, though, is getting the students to understand that the +/-/0 refers to the overall fitness (and to understand what fitness is). This especially comes up the most with regards to concept 7 (“Positive interactions such as mutualism are common in nature; with mutualisms, each partner pays a cost for participating, but the benefits outweigh the costs”) Sometimes, I want the students to conclude that they don’t have enough information to determine the outcome. For example, if I tell them that one organism obtains all its sugars from another, they tend to assume that means it is a +/- interaction, even if we just covered mycorrhizae. But, just knowing that one organism is “taking” sugars from another doesn’t say whether the net effect is positive, negative, or neutral. I don’t want to make the students paranoid about thinking I’m trying to trick them on an exam (and I think that does happen sometimes), but I do think it’s a really important point to understand that there are costs associated with mutualistic interaction. Do you run into similar issues?

      • These are first year undergraduates studying either Biology or Environmental Science, so I talk about fitness and ways to measure it, don’t go into costs in much depth other than to use my “biological barter” metaphor (trading things a species has in excess for things a species needs). I talk about the 5-way interaction in general natural history terms rather than using numbers, though I’m adapting my teaching next term so may change this into a more formal exercise.

  2. I’d take the somewhat inflammatory position that there are *no* “key ecology concepts Intro Bio students should learn”. Well, depending how you categorize “organisms evolve, and the primary mechanism is natural selection”. I think that’s about the only absolutely-must-have Intro Bio concept in *any* discipline of Biology. Otherwise, all your 21 concepts are perfectly sensible things to teach (and we could probably come up with 21 more pretty easily) – but none of them is something that, if removed, would ruin your majors’ education. All students should have some exposure to ecological thinking; but six months (minutes?) after the final exam, they won’t remember the specific content. You can see that as depressing, or you can see it as permission to relax and have fun hitting what interests you most!

    I think.

    • I struggled with this years ago when I taught intro bio. In must curriculums intro bio is the main prerequisite for all the other biology classes. Which would imply there are concepts these later courses expect to have covered, and I felt obliged to cover them. But the more I dug into it, I realized that in fact there was really nothing that downstream courses 100% assumed was covered. That bio 100 was really an entity in itself and that what I thought was “must be covered” was really just how intro bio is historically taught. Across several departments/universities I have discovered very little conversation across lower and upper level biology courses to implement a logical progression of material. The listing of intro bio as a prereq for higher courses is a signal of something other than concept mastery. What exactly is probably a whole other blog post.

      Which means Steve is right. Alternatively, it means, these conversations across courses ought to be happening more in departments. Interestingly, my department did a curriculum retreat last spring and we got much more focused on what skill sets we could students coming out of lower bio classes into upper bio classes (writing primarily, but a bit of stats, data literacy=your graph reading). Everybody feels like they need to teach these in their 400 level classes because they can’t assume they are well covered earlier but then they are a distraction from 400 level depth of material.

      • My curriculum-development experience is similar to yours, Brian. And in our most recent exercise, we did put more emphasis on abilities (graph reading, writing, etc) and less on content. But it’s *really* hard to break away from content thinking (and of course you do need content – you need a list like Meg’s whether or not any concept on it is “required”!)

      • Yes, I think there’s definitely room to have more of these conversations across courses/within departments. It would be great if us pushing our students in Intro Bio meant that they get to go into greater depth in upper level courses. I have sometimes compared with those courses (e.g., to make sure it wouldn’t cause problems in those courses if I dropped something), but we haven’t done a synthetic overview. But I think one value in having a list like this is that, if we all adopt these, it’s a very simple list of things to pass on to people teaching upper level courses as things they should expect students learned in Intro Bio.

        I fully agree with the importance of skills. We strongly emphasize things related to evaluating evidence and general process of science work. We don’t do much in the way of developing writing skills, though. I would love to do more work on that in the future, but for now have decided to focus on improving other aspects of the course.

    • I agree with this and that the more important thing for these intro students to learn are skills (e.g. scientific reasoning and critical thinking). I believe this can be done: ‘Never teach content without skills and never teach skills without content.’

  3. Meg – I find your list really impressive, not so much in the scope, of which I think you’ve got it about right. But with the precision in which they are worded. They remain general concepts but are much more concrete, specific and teachable than something like say “nutrient cycles” which ultimately is probably a codeword for memorize a bunch of flow diagrams. Which is where intro bio quickly turns into a death march of memorization. You have done a great job on homing in on the really essential tangible concept in each case.

    If I were to add one it would (surprisingly 🙂 ) be biodiversity/macroecology related. Something like: there is enormous variation in how common or rare species are and more species are rare than common.

    I have usually taught a unit on defining biodiversity since it is a word thrown around even in the general news a lot but is really not a simple concept to unpack.

    For slight twists on your #12, #14 and #19 I have typically taught a unit on global change using the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment framework of 5 types of global change: land use change, over harvesting, chemical change (nutrient cycle changes like eutrophication + pollution), climate change, and invasive species. These all seem key to interpreting everyday news and although climate change dominates the news cycles land use change and overharvesting remain today the biggest threats (although that is going to change quickly). Similarly, I teach ecosystem services using the MEA framework of provisioning (timber, fiber, some foods), regulation (flood control, water quality, air quality) and cultural (recreation, spiritual, aesthetic). I’m glad you teach these concepts – many would say they are not core to biology, but they are certainly core to being a citizen and consumer of news.

    • Thanks for the thoughts! I was thinking about one that related to general latitudinal patterns in biodiversity, but decided that was too specific. But I like your proposal (“there is enormous variation in how common or rare species are and more species are rare than common.”)

      We do try to teach about biodiversity, but, as you know, it can be hard to do simply. That said, students have some intuitive sense that evenness can be an aspect of diversity.

      And I completely agree that understanding the different types of global change are key to being a citizen and consumer of news. When I added “Humans use biodiversity in many different ways, including for aesthetic value, food, drug discovery, ecosystem services, and bio-inspired design.”, I wondered if some would object, as it’s not really a foundational concept of ecology. But I think it’s so important to teach about this! I always cover it, but this exercise has me thinking that I might want to emphasize it more.

      Thanks for the idea of framing things in terms of the MEA framework of 5 types of global change. Among other things, I think it would help me be more explicit with the students about what I mean when I say “global change”. Thinking about this in response to your comment, I’m not sure I’m clear enough about that now.

  4. I think that this is a great list, thank you! I really like how you build up in complexity from the beginning of the list to the end.

    Regarding #19, I do agree with Brian that teaching about global change processes, rather than just climate change due to fossil fuel consumption, offers a bigger picture to how humans are shaping the climate at a global scale. I’m not sure if I would put invasive species here or not, given that we often don’t know their ecological effects – we just assume that they’re bad.

    Also, I would offer a slightly reworded version of #1, to indicate that organisms are not static and that they are constrained by tradeoffs, more similar to the #1 in your first list. The current wording also gives the impression that organisms are a perfect fit for the environment that they are in, but that isn’t really true.

    “Organisms adapt to their environment but are constrained by tradeoffs; species differ in their ecological requirements.”

    • Thanks for these thoughts! I omitted the tradeoffs bit because I thought that might be a more advanced topic (I generally haven’t covered it), but you’re right that it comes at a risk of making it sound like organisms are a perfect fit for their environment. I will have to think more about how to balance those two things. Thank you very much for raising that point!

      I do like the idea of using the MEA framework for talking about global change. I think it could give more of an overarching framework for some things I was already talking about (or trying to talk about), but that may not have been as well-connected as they could have been.

  5. Coming in from a slightly different angle, and somewhat linking to what Brian said, I think the most important aspect is to figure out what skills and knowledge you would expect a graduate of your programme to have, turn this into programme learning outcomes, and then decide on module/course level learning outcomes which make those programme level outcomes happen. This should then automatically inform your downstream flow: E.g. if you want a graduate to be able to generate, manipulate and analyse datasets, you’d expect a final year student to do some sort of research project, which means the year before that they need to learn about designing research projects and biostatistics, which means before that they need to have a basic understanding of bionumeracy.

    Quite often I find thinking backwards from the “final product” makes designing a coherent programme easier, but is does need a whole team approach, which can be complicated if the course team is rather large.

    • Yes, I completely agree. I started a follow up post to this on backwards design of a course, and about how this relates to teaching to the test (a phrase that has gotten a bad rap in the US because of our over-reliance on standardized tests). But then I got interrupted and haven’t gotten back to it yet. Hopefully soon!

      I think it would be great to think about the skills we want our students to have as they leave college with a degree in biology or a related field. It would also be interesting (but likely challenging) to then figure out which courses or levels should work towards different skills. For example, I think it’s critical that our students graduate with the ability to critically evaluate evidence (including data presented graphically) and to write clearly and persuasively. But we’ve made the decision that, for now, we will emphasize the former (critically evaluating evidence) but not the latter (writing) in this course. That means that I am relying on someone else to teach the writing skills. I think that no one course can teach everything, but it would be great if we made sure that we weren’t accidentally missing some skills (or not giving them as much coverage as they need) based on decisions being made in individual courses. (Writing this comment has me realizing that another good topic for a blog post would be the experiences that led me to decide to emphasize figure reading as much as I do. I’ll add that to my “to write” list!)

      • I look forward to further posts on this. We don’t separately teach critical writing, but have embedded it into our subject modules through coursework, and support it through a generic transferable and professional skills module. We start getting them used to peer-reviewed papers in year 1, get them to critically read in year 2 and expect critical discussion and writing in year 3. Because it is linked to their chosen subjects, it tends to be less dry and they engage well with it (although some will always be better than others, but then that is fine, as long as they meet a minimum treshold).

        To write lists (and “to read” lists for that matter) have this annoying habit of getting longer and longer! I’ll be on the lookout!

  6. Very nice post! We have been also discussing the “Backbone of Ecology” here at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, where we teach the foundations of our science for Biology undergrads in two courses (one-semester each): Ecology I and Ecology II. We want to formally restructure those courses in the next years. The tentative list we made so far is:

    Ecology I:
    1. Ecology: background, definitions, current approaches
    2. Ecological scales: individual, population, community, ecosystem, biome
    3. Scientific Method: hypothetico-deductive method, mind maps
    4. Habitat, niche and life strategies
    5. Populations and metapopulations
    6. Interspecific interactions: amensalisms, commensalisms, mutualisms, and antagonisms
    7. Coevolution
    8. Behavioral ecology
    9. Biogeography, biomes & hotspots

    Ecology II:
    10. Biodiversity: alpha, beta, and gamma
    11. Global patterns of biodiversity
    12. Macroecology
    13. Trophic chains and decomposition
    14. Ecological succession
    15. Biogeochemical cycles
    16. Energy and matter fluxes
    17. Primary and secondary productivity
    18. Ecosystem functions and services
    19. Environmental impacts and global changes
    20. Conservation and management

  7. Never having taught intro bio, I’m not well-placed to comment, Meg. But a few tentative thoughts:

    -your list looks good to me. Though I agree with Stephen and Brian that other lists would also be equally good, and that what’s a “good” list depends in part on how intro bio fits into the rest of the curriculum.

    -Seems like a bit of a long list–does it feel rushed to you, or to the students?

    -Thank you for not including the IDH on your list. 🙂 (aside: I think it’d be fine to say something about “disturbance” and its effects in intro bio, but you can do that without saying [falsely] “As a rule, diversity peaks at intermediate disturbance”).

    -How much do you worry about giving students a unifying framework or general principles to tie all this material together? Do you not worry about that, seeing intro bio as just a “taster” for what will come in upper level courses? Does it come across to the students as just a lot of disconnected bits of stuff to memorize?

    -How much do you worry about linking the ecological bits of intro bio with the other bits? And what are the other bits at Michigan? Here at Calgary, we’re unusual in that our year-long intro bio sequence is not based on levels of organization (e.g., a term of cell/molecular, a term of organismal/evolution/ecology). Rather, we’re organized on conceptual lines (see here, the courses are BIOL 241 and 243: http://www.ucalgary.ca/pubs/calendar/current/biology.html). BIOL 241 is “flows of energy” (and cycles of materials, I think…) as a unifying theme across all levels of biological organization. BIOL 243 is (loosely) “flows of information”–i.e. evolution and its genetic basis. I really like this way of structuring first year bio.

    • Good question about whether/how the lists might relate to “general principles.” I believe that if we really want big ideas to stay with students well beyond the end of the term, we either have to cover them in ways that make them the most compelling things the students have ever heard (a really high bar), OR (more realistic option) revisit them frequently throughout the course. I am not yet good at this.

    • Great thoughts, Jeremy and Greg. When I taught General Ecology at Georgia Tech, when I would come to one of the 15 key concepts, I would tell the students that it was one of them, to try to emphasize it more. I don’t think I would generally (ever?) be able to reach the “most compelling” bar Greg set, so the idea of revisiting them frequently is a good one. That’s different than what I had in mind (that I should try to structure each lecture around 1-2 of the key concepts). But these comments are making me realize that is not a good learning strategy, and that revisiting them (or interleaving them, to use the pedagogy term) would probably be more effective. I need to think more about how to implement that, though! (Ideas are welcome!)

      Regarding disturbance: It will still come up in relation to “Species richness is influenced by variation in species pools, colonization rates, abiotic conditions, and species interactions.” But, yes, we’ve stopped teaching the IDH as a rule for How Communities Work.

      Jeremy asked: “Does it come across to the students as just a lot of disconnected bits of stuff to memorize?” Yes, I think that is true to some students. So, thinking more about how to revisit topics and connect them would be valuable. I try to connect them, but I’m sure I could be more effective.

      That’s really interesting about how Intro Bio is structured at Calgary! We have the more traditional split with one semester of EEB and one semester of MCDB. The two courses are independent (well, mostly), with students being able to take them in either order. So, when covering meiosis and mitosis or photosynthesis, we just tell them that they’ll learn more about what is going on at the cellular level in the other semester of Intro Bio, but don’t make more connections than that.

      I know that at one point Cornell did away with Intro Bio entirely, figuring that students would be better served by just moving straight into a full ecology or evolution course. Based on my quick attempt just now to look at their course catalog, I think that is still going on. (It looks like there’s a one semester, 1000-level Ecology and the Environment course and another one semester, 1000-level Evolutionary Biology and Diversity course.) I’d love to hear more about how this has been working.

  8. This great, and will be very helpful in the near future, thank you :-).

    I currently teach “Biogeography” separately for Ecology and Geography majors (~30 students each), and it is pretty clear to me by now that they need to be completely different courses. For Ecology majors, it is a 3rd year course, and I can really focus on Biogeography and Macroecology. But in the Brazilian geographer parlance, the term Biogeography means pretty much “Ecology for/by Geographers”, and in this sense I’ve been continuously changing the course to be more of an “Intro to Ecology using Biogeography as a background”. It is a 2nd year required course, and pretty much the only course they’ll take on anything Biology during their entire degree.

    My plan for next year is to finally decouple it entirely from the Ecology course, and rebuild it as “Ecological concepts every geographer must know”, and your list will be immensely helpful for that. I’ll probably dial down pop ecology, food webs and interactions, and add more emphasis to biodiversity, human evolution and its impacts on the Biosphere, and climate change (as a side note, many Brazilian geographers firmly believe that “climate change is a ruse to promote green capitalism”, so I see my course as having a key role in teaching the new generation that the geophysics of climate change is real and doesn’t depend on the geopolitics of climate change).

    And one thing I hope to emphasize more on both courses (heavily biased by my own research interests) is the multiple ways of thinking about diversity in ecosystems, especially on taxonomic vs functional diversity.

  9. Great discussion! Perhaps it is implicit to yours and others curricula in ecology, but I believe an emphasis on statistics, i.e., what they mean, what they don’t mean, and how they are really very much abused in the ecology literature would go a very long way. Obviously most people majoring in the field will get some exposure, but some is not enough, really. Coming to understand the assumptions of any number of statistics is very important, given how often ecologists violate them- with a distinct emphasis on qualitative v. quantitative/ correlation v. prediction.

  10. Pingback: Friday links: the Great Emu War, world’s oldest bar graph, 10 principles of ecology, and more | Dynamic Ecology

  11. Pingback: Statistik dan Arus Informasi dalam Ekologi: Apa Saja yang Harus Dipelajari? | Cuma Ide

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