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Ecology

  • Hydrozoan polyps on a hermit-crab shell (photo by Tiffany Galush)

    A new approach to course-based research using a hermit crab-hydrozoan symbiosis

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • define different types of symbiotic interactions, with specific examples.
    • summarize and critically evaluate contemporary primary literature relevant to ecological symbioses, in particular that between hermit crabs and Hydractinia spp.
    • articulate a question, based on observations of a natural phenomenon (in this example, the hermit crab-Hydractinia interaction).
    • articulate a testable hypothesis, based on their own observations and read of the literature.
    • design appropriate experimental or observational studies to address their hypotheses.
    • collect and interpret data in light of their hypotheses.
    • problem-solve and troubleshoot issues that arise during their experiment.
    • communicate scientific results, both orally and in written form.
  • Adult female Daphnia dentifera. Daphnia spp. make a great study system due to their transparent body and their ease of upkeep in a lab.

    Dynamic Daphnia: An inquiry-based research experience in ecology that teaches the scientific process to first-year...

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Construct written predictions about 1 factor experiments.
    • Interpret simple (2 variables) figures.
    • Construct simple (2 variables) figures from data.
    • Design simple 1 factor experiments with appropriate controls.
    • Demonstrate proper use of standard laboratory items, including a two-stop pipette, stereomicroscope, and laboratory notebook.
    • Calculate means and standard deviations.
    • Given some scaffolding (instructions), select the correct statistical test for a data set, be able to run a t-test, ANOVA, chi-squared test, and linear regression in Microsoft Excel, and be able to correctly interpret their results.
    • Construct and present a scientific poster.
  • Ecosystem

    Using Pathway Maps to Link Concepts, Peer Review, Primary Literature Searches and Data Assessment in Large Enrollment...

    Learning Objectives
    • Define basic concepts and terminology of Ecosystem Ecology
    • Link biological processes that affect each other
    • Evaluate whether the link causes a positive, negative, or neutral effect
    • Find primary literature
    • Identify data that correctly supports or refutes an hypothesis
  • Graphic of structured decision making process

    Using Structured Decision Making to Explore Complex Environmental Issues

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    1. Describe the process, challenges, and benefits of structured decision making for natural resource management decisions.
    2. Explain and reflect on the role of science and scientists in structured decision making and how those roles interact and compare to the roles of other stakeholders.
    3. Assess scientific evidence for a given management or policy action to resolve an environmental issue.
  • The Roc is a mythical giant bird of prey, first conceived during the Islamic Golden Age (~8th to 13th centuries CE), popularized in folk tales gathered in One Thousand One Nights. Rocs figured prominently in tales of Sinbad the Sailor. In this 1898 illustration by René Bull, the Roc is harassing two of Sinbad’s small fleet of ships. Illustration by René Bull is licensed under CC BY 2.0. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roc_(mythology)#mediaviewer/File:Rocweb.jpg)

    A first lesson in mathematical modeling for biologists: Rocs

    Learning Objectives
    • Systematically develop a functioning, discrete, single-species model of an exponentially-growing or -declining population.
    • Use the model to recommend appropriate action for population management.
    • Communicate model output and recommendations to non-expert audiences.
    • Generate a collaborative work product that most individuals could not generate on their own, given time and resource constraints.
  • Plant ecology students surveying vegetation at Red Hills, CA, spring 2012.  From left to right are G.L, F.D, A.M., and R.P.  Photo used with permission from all students.

    Out of Your Seat and on Your Feet! An adaptable course-based research project in plant ecology for advanced students

    Learning Objectives
    Students will:
    • Articulate testable hypotheses. (Lab 8, final presentation/paper, in-class exercises)
    • Analyze data to determine the level of support for articulated hypotheses. (Labs 4-7, final presentation/paper)
    • Identify multiple species of plants in the field quickly and accurately. (Labs 2-3, field trip)
    • Measure environmental variables and sample vegetation in the field. (Labs 2-3, field trip)
    • Analyze soil samples using a variety of low-tech lab techniques. (Open labs after field trip)
    • Use multiple statistical techniques to analyze data for patterns. (Labs 4-8, final presentation/paper)
    • Interpret statistical analyses to distinguish between strong and weak interactions in a biological system. (Labs 4-7, final presentation/paper)
    • Develop and present a conference-style presentation in a public forum. (Lab 8, final presentation/paper)
    • Write a publication-ready research paper communicating findings and displaying data. (Lab 8, final presentation/paper)
  • Image from http://www.epa.gov/airdata/ad_maps.html

    Air Quality Data Mining: Mining the US EPA AirData website for student-led evaluation of air quality issues

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Describe various parameters of air quality that can negatively impact human health, list priority air pollutants, and interpret the EPA Air Quality Index as it relates to human health.
    • Identify an air quality problem that varies on spatial and/or temporal scales that can be addressed using publicly available U.S. EPA air data.
    • Collect appropriate U.S. EPA Airdata information needed to answer that/those questions, using the U.S. EPA Airdata website data mining tools.
    • Analyze the data as needed to address or answer their question(s).
    • Interpret data and draw conclusions regarding air quality levels and/or impacts on human and public health.
    • Communicate results in the form of a scientific paper.
  • Bird in flight.  Flight is a mode of locomotion that has co-evolved in several lineages in the animal kingdom.  Here, we see a roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) in flight over Everglades National Park in Florida.  Photo credit: Brian K. Mealey.

    It's a bird! It's a plane! It's biomechanics!

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • identify and define forces that act on an object in flight.
    • understand the definition of Newton’s third law of motion, which states that with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and apply this principle to explain pressure differences and lift generation.
    • generate hypotheses about animal flight efficiency based on examining morphology (anatomy).
    • generate hypotheses correlating wing size and performance during flight.
    • apply their understanding of wing designs and wing relationships to total mass.
    • compare flight principles among animals to understand the co-evolution in several animal groups.
  • A photo of grizzly bears fishing in the McNeil Falls in Alaska, taken using BearCam by Lawrence Griffing.

    Authentic Ecological Inquiries Using BearCam Archives

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • conduct an authentic ecological inquiry including
      • generate a testable hypothesis based on observations,
      • design investigation with appropriate sampling selection and variables,
      • collect and analyze data following the design, and
      • interpret results and draw conclusions based on the evidence.
    • write a research report with appropriate structure and style.
    • evaluate the quality of inquiry reports using a rubric.
    • conduct peer review to evaluate and provide feedback to others' work.
    • revise the inquiry report based on peer feedback and self-assessment.
  • A crossbill feeds on a pinecone

    Coevolution or not? Crossbills, squirrels and pinecones

    Learning Objectives
    1. Define coevolution.
    2. Identify types of evidence that would help determine whether two species are currently in a coevolutionary relationship.
    3. Interpret graphs.
    4. Evaluate evidence about whether two species are coevolving and use evidence to make a scientific argument.
    5. Describe what evidence of a coevolutionary relationship might look like.
    6. Distinguish between coadaptation and coevolution.
  • Monarch larvae

    Does it pose a threat? Investigating the impact of Bt corn on monarch butterflies

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Apply genetics concepts to a relevant case study of Bt corn and monarch butterflies
    • Read figures and text from primary literature
    • Identify claims presented in scientific studies
    • Evaluate data presented in scientific studies
    • Critically reason using data
    • Evaluate the consequences of GM technology on non-target organisms
    • Communicate scientific data orally
  • “Quantifying variation in biodiversity” Groundhogs (Marmota monax) with conspicuous variation awaiting measurements.

    Teaching Biodiversity with Museum Specimens in an Inquiry-Based Lab

    Learning Objectives
    Students completing this lab module will:
    • Learn how to appropriately handle and measure museum specimens.
    • Develop the necessary statistical skills to analyze museum specimen data.
    • Become familiar with how to search an online museum database and integrate supplemental data with their own dataset.
    • Strengthen scientific communication skills by presenting research to their peers.
    • Demonstrate ability to investigate scientific questions and address obstacles that occur during data collection and integration.
    • Increase proficiency in managing and using large datasets for scientific research.
    • Make connections between natural history knowledge and morphology of organisms in developing and testing hypotheses.
  • Using QIIME to Interpret Environmental Microbial Communities in an Upper Level Metagenomics Course

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • list and perform the steps of sequence processing and taxonomic inference.
    • interpret microbial community diversity from metagenomic sequence datasets.
    • compare microbial diversity within and between samples or treatments.
  • DNA barcoding research in first-year biology curriculum

    CURE-all: Large Scale Implementation of Authentic DNA Barcoding Research into First-Year Biology Curriculum

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to: Week 1-4: Fundamentals of Science and Biology
    • List the major processes involved in scientific discovery
    • List the different types of scientific studies and which types can establish causation
    • Design experiments with appropriate controls
    • Create and evaluate phylogenetic trees
    • Define taxonomy and phylogeny and explain their relationship to each other
    • Explain DNA sequence divergence and how it applies to evolutionary relationships and DNA barcoding
    Week 5-6: Ecology
    • Define and measure biodiversity and explain its importance
    • Catalog organisms using the morphospecies concept
    • Geographically map organisms using smartphones and an online mapping program
    • Calculate metrics of species diversity using spreadsheet software
    • Use spreadsheet software to quantify and graph biodiversity at forest edges vs. interiors
    • Write a formal lab report
    Week 7-11: Cellular and Molecular Biology
    • Extract, amplify, visualize and sequence DNA using standard molecular techniques (PCR, gel electrophoresis, Sanger sequencing)
    • Explain how DNA extraction, PCR, gel electrophoresis, and Sanger sequencing work at the molecular level
    Week 12-13: Bioinformatics
    • Trim and assemble raw DNA sequence data
    • Taxonomically identify DNA sequences isolated from unknown organisms using BLAST
    • Visualize sequence data relationships using sequence alignments and gene-based phylogenetic trees
    • Map and report data in a publicly available online database
    • Share data in a formal scientific poster
  • An active-learning lesson that targets student understanding of population growth in ecology

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Calculate and compare population density and abundance.
    • Identify whether a growth curve describes exponential, linear, and/or logistic growth.
    • Describe and calculate a population's growth rate using linear, exponential, and logistic models.
    • Explain the influence of carrying capacity and population density on growth rate.