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Ecology

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.