BIOL 4120


of Ecology



Harned Hall 301

963- 5782

A Sunflower's florets are arranged in a Fibonacci spiral.


Spring, 2007


Elements of Ecology, 6th ed., Smith, T. H. and Smith, R. L. 2006; Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, Inc.


Elements of Ecology

Class Times/Places:







10:20 - 11:15 AM

202 Harned Hall

1:00-4:00 PM
212 Harned Hall


1:00-4:00 PM

212 Harned Hall

Office Hours:






11:20 - 2:20

1:00 - 2:30

11:20 - 1:20

1:00 - 2:30

11:20 - 1:20

I will be on campus most weekdays. You are welcome to call or come and find me in my office or lab (Harned Hall 304) at any time. Although there is always a chance that I may have something under way which can not be interrupted, I can usually stop and help. Additional means of contacting me are the phone (number above) and email (just click on the "email Me" buttons on any of my web pages).

Accommodating those with disabilities:

The Biology Department, in conjunction with the Office of Disabled Student Services, makes reasonable accommodation for qualified students with medically documented disabilities. If you need an accommodation, please contact Dan Steely of TSU's Disabled Student Services Office at 963-7400 (phone) or 963-5051 (fax), preferably in the first week of class.

Course Description:

Credit Hours: This course is designed for three hours per week (3 credit hours) of lecture and three hours per week (1 credit hour) of laboratory. The credit hours are listed in the University catalog as 4 for the lecture and 0 for the lab and only the lecture receives an ABCDF letter grade (the lab gets either an "s" or "u"). For this reason, 25% of the letter grade comes from your performance in lab (see below under Grading)

Prerequisites: BIO 111 & BIO 112 (Intro to Biology I and II), BIO 212 (Genetics), BIO 211 (Cell Biology) In addition -- courses in botany, evolution, invertebrate and vertebrate zoology and an elementary statistics course would be very helpful to anyone taking this course.

Catalog Description. Fundamental ecological principles with special reference to levels of organization, population and community properties, structural adaptation, functional adjustments, and other factors affecting the distribution of organisms.

Course Objectives:

Link to List of Specific Objectives You should use these objectives when studying.

This course is designed to present an introduction to current theories and practices in ecology. Students are introduced 1) to the various questions (in a broad sense) asked by ecologists, 2) to the ideas (theories, models) from which hypotheses are suggested to answer the questions, and 3) to the ways in which ecologists go about gathering data to refute or support the proposed hypotheses. Specific ecological studies are used to illustrate some of what has been learned about the natural world through the study of ecology. Thus, the course emphasizes the conceptual models by through which we attempt to understand complex biological systems, the facts upon which those models are based, and the processes through which we learn these facts.

Since ecologists tend to view biological systems in a hierarchical fashion, we take a hierarchical approach also. The course roughly follows the organizational plan of the textbook. We first explore interactions between individual organisms and their physical environment. Some relevant questions are: What are the most important types of habitat? What are the dominant environmental factors in those different habitats? How do organisms adapt to variation in those factors? We then explore the ecosystem level of organization from the perspective of material and energy flow in these large systems. Some relevant questions are: What are ecosystems? Do ecosystems have characteristic structures? What properties do all ecosystems share?

After exploring narrow (individual organism level) and wide (ecosystem level) ecological perspectives, we proceed to topics specifically linked to the science of population biology. Some relevant questions are: What are the properties unique to populations? How do we model population growth? What are the consequences of age structure on population growth? How do non-living environmental factors affect organisms' abilities to survive, grow, and reproduce? What are the consequences of interactions such as predation, competition, and mutualism on the growth rate of populations?

Because ecology is inextricably linked to evolution, we include an examination of evolutionary ideas and concentrate on those aspects of evolution with specific application to topics covered elsewhere in the course. Some relevant questions are: What is evolution? What are the ties between ecology and the genetic variation necessary for evolution? What is natural selection? How does the formation of new species depend on the environment? Why do species go extinct?

For similar reasons, we also explore the links between behavior and ecology through study of behaviors that have ecological consequences. Some relevant questions are: What consequences arise from the fact that group and individual success may be separate phenomena? Why is group living a response to the environment? What types of behaviors have direct links to ecological success? What sorts of reproductive strategies exist?

Because not all populations in a given habitat interact directly and strongly, we look at how populations are organized into communities composed of many species and how those communities interact with the non-living environment. Some relevant questions are: How do we define communities? What sorts of communities can be found in different parts of the world (terrestrial and aquatic)? How do we characterize such complex assemblages as communities? What ecological properties do all communities share?

Finally, we will end the semester with an examination of an issue that illustrates the impact of ecological thinking in our society. We will examine the importance of biodiversity, the role mankind has on the current rate of extinction, and the current efforts in support of conservation.


This course is intended for the collegiate senior year. Thus, you have had extensive experience in taking and successfully completing college courses. With this assumption, material is presented in three ways, with considerable overlap. The primary source for you is the TEXTBOOK. Your second source of information is lecture, which is supplemented with material on this website ( Not all of the information in the text can be presented in lecture but you are responsible for all of the information in the text and anything added in lecture. The lectures are intended to give an overview of the material and cover material from the book that bears repetition and close reading: complex ideas and mathematical formalizations of ecological ideas and hypotheses. Since you are responsible for all of the material, time will be given in each lecture for questions stemming from your reading. If you do not read the material prior to class, you will miss the opportunity to ask questions in open forum and must contact me outside of lecture. This can be done in person (note office hours above), over the phone (number also above - keep calling), or through email ( - leave 24 hours or more for a response at either address). DO NOT USE MYTSU as I rarely check that account and your mail may go unread for months.

Assignments (including laboratory exercises and the optional paper) must be turned in through email.

Additional material may be covered in lecture and additional reading materials may be assigned then. The author of the textbook maintains a website at Benjamin Cummings Publishers (registration using code in textbook required) with supplementary information for all chapters (with quiz materials) and your instructor has also contributed supplementary material (accessible through the ecology course syllabus page on this website). To reiterate, the student is responsible for material in the assigned readings and supplemental materials from the websites as well as material presented in lecture.

Laboratory Attendance:  Attendance is required at both lecture and laboratory.  If you miss a laboratory and do not have a doctor's or other approved excuse (approved at the discretion of the laboratory instructor), the assignment for that laboratory will recieve a grade of 0.  Since there are fewer than ten assignments, a 0 is a very significant penalty and should be avoided.  Attendance during laboratory periods where presentations are given is also mandatory and penalties will accompany unexcused absences.

It is expected (but not required) that, in completing laboratory assignments, many laboratory groups will work together to complete the lab assignments. This is not a problem. However, when a student turns in work without contributing to the effort, it is wrong. Therefore, each laboratory assignment done in a collaborative fashion must be turned in only once by someone designated by the group. The assignment must begin with a statement that it is a group effort and a list of those who contributed to the assignment's completion. Separately, each of the contributors must send the laboratory instructor an email containing an indication of which lab assignment is the subject of the email, a statement that he/she (the author of the email) contributed to the assignment's completion, has checked the calculations for accuracy, and agrees with the conclusions reached. The email must also contain a list of those who collaborated to write up the lab (including the sender). No one in the group will receive any credit for the assignment unless all contributors send emails and all of the lists in the group contain the same names. If another group or individual submits a lab that is substantially identical, no one in either group will receive any credit for the lab. This mechanism is in place solely to prevent individuals from receiving credit for the effort of others. It is reasonable to expect that those who use the same data will have identical calculations (if done correctly). However, the spreadsheet's formatting, the wording of the conclusions, and (most significantly) the errors all act as fingerprints for the identification of a laboratory assignment. Once again, labs that are substantially identical will not receive any credit at all.

Grading: There will be four period-long examinations during laboratory classes on the days noted in the laboratory schedule. Examinations will cover only the material covered since the previous examination and will be in objective/essay/problem format. However, the final will be comprehensive and will stress terminology.

In addition to examinations, the final and homework, there will be a presentation on a subject chosen by the student and approved by the instructor. The choice of a topic for presentation must be approved or the presentation will not be accepted. The presentation is described in its own presentation webpage. Presentations will be given at the end of the semester during laboratory meetings. It is advisable to use Microsoft PowerPoint or another presentation authoring program.

In addition to the presentation, there is an optional written assignment. It must be turned in by the end of the 11th week of the semester (see schedule below). This paper will be no more than two typed, single-spaced pages long but must be a well-organized essay that explains the science behind a current environmental or ecological issue. The grade on the paper will be substituted for a examination grade (exclusive of the final examination). See the description of the paper on the web page that describes the presentation (presentation webpage).

Laboratory assignments will be described during the laboratory periods and are due on the dates listed in the laboratory schedule. There is a penalty of three points for each day that a lab is past due. Up to 10% of a lab grade will be optionally (at the discretion of the lab instructor) may be determined on the day on which the laboratory assignment is due. The method will be a short quiz (just a few questions) on the calculations done in that laboratory exercise. The questions will focus on interpreting the methodology to ensure that you understand and can correctly interpret the calculations done.

All dates for both homework and lecture examinations are subject to change by me but this will be announced in class. The overall grade for the course will be based on the standard TSU point-to-grade scale. The distribution of points is:

Exams:  50% 
Laboratory:  25% 
Final:  10% 
Presentation/paper:  15% 

Policy on plagiarism and cheating: Cheating on exams or plagiarizing on a paper will result in a 0 grade for that exam or paper. The Department Chair and Dean will be informed of the occurrence. To plagiarize is 1. to appropriate and pass off as one's own (the writings, ideas, etc., of another). 2. To appropriate and use passages, ideas, etc. from another's text or product. (Funk and Wagnells Standard Dictionary of the English Language, 1965). All papers will be kept by the instructor.

Disclaimer: The instructor reserves the right to change the occurrence, timing and content of lectures, laboratory exercises, and examinations.

Schedule of Lectures and Reading:

Week Dates Days Topics Lecture Notes Reading
1 1/16 WF

Ecology as a Science

The Ecology-Evolution Interface

Lecture 1

Lecture 2

Chapters 1 & 2
2 1/22 MWF

The Physical Environment

The Aquatic Environment

Lecture 3

Lecture 4

Chapters 3 & 4
3 1/29 MWF

The Terrestrial Environment

Plant Adaptations

Lecture 5

Lecture 6

Chapters 5 & 6
4 2/5 MWF

Animal Adaptations

Life History

Lecture 7

Lecture 8

Chapters 7 & 8
5 2/12 MWF

Population Characteristics

Population Growth

Lecture 9

Lecture 10

Chapters 9 & 10
6 2/19 MWF

Population Regulation


Lecture 11

Lecture 12

Chapters 11 & 12
7 2/26 MWF

Interspecific Competition

Lecture 13

Chapter 13
  3/5-3/9 Spring Break    
8 3/12 MWF

Predation and Herbivory

Lecture 14 Chapter 14
9 3/19 MWF

Mutualism and Parasitism

Lecture 15

Chapter 15
10 3/26 MWF

Community Ecology

Lecture 16

Lecture 17

Chapters 16 &17

Chapter 18

11 4/2 MW

Ecosystems Ecology

Landscape Ecology

Lecture 18

Lecture 19

Chapters 20, 21 & 22

Chapter 19

  4/6 F Holiday    
12 4/9 MWF

Biogeographical Ecology

Lecture 20

Lecture 21

Chapters 23

Chapter 24 & 25

13 4/16 MWF

Diversity Patterns

Human Ecology

Chapter 19 notes

Chapter 20 notes

Chapter 26

Chapters 27 & 28

14 4/23 MW

Human Ecology

Exam 4 (Wed)

Chapter 21 notes Chapter 29
      Final Exam (10:20 AM)    

Final Examination is comprehensive

Schedule of Laboratories:

Week Dates   Topics  Link to Lab Webpage Lab Assignment Due Dates 
  Sec. 01 Sec. 02      
1 1/16 1/18 Lab Introduction    
2 1/23 1/25 Spreadsheets Intro to Spreadsheet  
3 1/30 2/1 Spreadsheet Graphics Spreadsheet Graphics Spreadsheet 1 Assignment due 
4 2/6 2/8 Lecture Exam 1   Presentation Topic Choice Due 
5 2/13 2/15 Population Size Estimation Population Size Spreadsheet Graphics due
6 2/20 2/22 Demography   Demography lab Population Size Estimation due
7 2/27 3/1  Lecture Exam 2    
  3/6 3/8 Spring Break    
8 3/13 3/15 Presentation Research     Demography due 
9 3/20 3/22 Forest Ecosystem - Spatial Patterns Spatial Pattern  
10 3/27 3/29 Predation and Functional Response Functional Response Spatial Patterns Lab due
11 4/3 4/5 Lecture Exam 3   Optional Written Assignment due
12 4/10 4/12 Presentations    
13 4/17 4/19 Presentations     Functional Response Lab due
14 4/24 4/26 Presentations     

There will be no final examination for the laboratory portion of the course

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Last updated on January 16, 2007