The fundamentals of ecology
This course provides a background in the fundamental principles of ecological science, including concepts of natural selection, population and community ecology, biodiversity, and sustainability. Students will acquire an "ecological literacy" about how the natural world works, and develop an understanding of how scientific methods are used to construct ecological knowledge. The course will also explore some of the major ecological challenges facing the Earth today, and the important research that needs to be done to address these concerns.
By taking this course, students will...
- To acquire an "ecological literacy" about how the natural world works
- To develop an understanding of how scientific methods are used to construct ecological knowledge
- To gain a greater appreciation of why it is important to study the interaction of living organisms on Earth
- To become familiar with some of the major ecological challenges facing the Earth today, and the important research which needs to be done to address these concerns
By the end of this course, students will be able to...
- understand and describe the major ideas of natural selection, population and community ecology, biodiversity, and sustainability
- interpret observations of life in a New York City microenvironment using principles of community ecology and succession
- address issues of ecological concern using qualitative and quantitative arguments
- identify specific ways in which natural or anthropogenic activity might influence terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
- identify the major mass extinctions in Earth's history and their possible causes
- analyze the assertion that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction at the present time
- describe and debate some of the major ecological issues relating to the current and future human condition, e.g. ecosystem services, agricultural systems, the management of reserves, and human genetics.
The calendar below is an example of how the course has been structured in the past. Like most non-studio three-credit classes at Pratt, the course meets for a total of 45 in-class hours— one weekly session of 3 hours for each of 15 weeks.
Basic Ecological Concepts
Behaviors, Niches and Natural Selection: Ecology at the level of the individual
FIRST SITE OBSERVATION DUE
Population Ecology I: Food Webs and Ecological Efficiency
Population Ecology II: Population Stability, Resource Competition, Extinction
Population Ecology III: Genetic Diversity<
Community Ecology I: Terrestrial Biomes, Forest Succession
Community Ecology II: Island Ecology, Introduced Species
SECOND SITE OBSERVATION DUE
OPTIONAL FIRST DRAFT OF MIDTERM PAPER DUE
Self-guided trip to the American Museum of Natural History
CLASS WILL NOT MEET
Biodiversity; Ecological/Wildlife Preserves
AMNH TRIP REPORT DUE
Aquatic Ecosystems; Ecosystem Services
MIDTERM PAPER/PROJECT DUE
Sustainability and Pollution
THIRD SITE OBSERVATION DUE
Human Ecology, Human Genetics and Society
COMPREHENSIVE FINAL EXAM
Students do not have to purchase any reading material for this course. All required readings will be posted as PDFs or made otherwise accessible through the course website.
Course readings will include book chapters, government reports, articles from peer-reviewed journals (e.g., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, Nature), mass-market science periodicals (e.g. Scientific American), and recent articles in the popular press.
There will be a small fee and subway fare associated with a self-guided trip to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.
- Weekly readings (available on the course LMS) are to be read BEFORE coming to class.
- There will be a short quiz at the BEGINNING of class each week to test your understanding of the readings AND the previous week's material.
- This course includes a semester-long research project, which requires three brief observation reports. The first aim of this project is to encourage you to observe a natural system right here in New York City. Observation of the natural world is a very important part of ecology; recording our observations as well as illustrating them has been a primary tool of ecologists for millennia. The second objective of this project is to give you an opportunity to learn more about the ecosystems surrounding us. To fulfill this objective, you will be asked to research various aspects of the ecosystem you choose to observe, and write a short paper about these topics (see the midterm paper below).
What to hand in for each visit (a.k.a. "the site observation report":
- Observations: Observe the site for at least 20 minutes and record your observations. Be sure to record the date and time of your visit, and your name. Observe the weather, the organisms at your site, any interactions between organisms, activities of organisms, and interactions between organisms and their environment. For the first and second visits, you should also briefly discuss your ideas for topics for your midterm report, and why those topics interest you. The whole observation should be no more than one page in length.
- Illustrations: Make a visual representation of your site, e.g. a sketch, a drawing, a photograph, or a video. Be sure to finish this while you are at the site or very soon thereafter. Don't compromise your data by going from memory; Your memory may be less than accurate. Be sure to put your name on your illustration.
- A complete observation must include your written observations (max 1 page) AND your illustration of the site (sketch, photo, drawing, etc).
- A midterm paper — based on the research report. You will hand in a 5 to 7 page report on an aspect of your site that interests you or that relates to topics covered in class. You have the OPTION to hand in a first draft of your report in class. I will gladly give feedback on this draft to help improve the final report. The topic must be verified with me in advance. Check with me in class, at office hours, or by e-mail. All written work must be in your own words (i.e., no plagiarism). If you incorporate a brief passage of text, verbatim, from another source — no more than one or two sentences total — the source must be explicitly and correctly cited.
- A trip report for a visit to AMNH.
- Participation is heavily weighted in this course.
- Some classroom activities (e.g. case studies) may require brief reflection papers to be turned in the following week.
- A comprehensive final exam will be given in class during the last week of the semester.
Final course letter grades are based on 100%–90% for A-range, 89%–80% for B-range, etc.
- 15% Weekly quizzes
- 15% Participation
- 40% Research project, the components of which are:
- 1st observation report is worth 5% of the course grade
- 2nd observation report is worth 5% of the course grade
- Midterm Paper on research project is worth 25% of the course grade
- 3rd observation report is worth 5% of the course grade
- 5% Museum trip report
- 5% Reflection papers
- 20% Final exam
There are NO opportunities for extra credit.
- Students must adhere to all Institute-wide policies listed in the Student Handbook under "Community Standards," which include policies on attendance, academic integrity, plagiarism, computer, and network use. Please see the Office of Student Affairs for policies and procedures for handling academic conduct issues.
- Pratt Institute is committed to full inclusion of all students. Those who require special accommodations for disabilities must obtain clearance from the Office of Disability Services at the beginning of the semester. Please make an appointment with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to discuss these accommodations. The DRC is located in Room 117, Willoughby Hall.
- On-time attendance at each class meeting is expected. Partial attendance, i.e. lateness or early departure and will impact the the Participation component of course grade. If not excused in advance, each late arrival or early departure will be penalized as a 50% reduction of the Participation component for the session.
- Students must obtain a Pratt e-mail address and check this mailbox for official course communication.
- Credit for late assignments will be reduced by one full grade (i.e., 10%) per each day late. No assignments will be accepted for credit more than 10 days late. Late assignments will only be accepted at the discretion of the instructor (i.e., in very unusual circumstances and/or arranged well in advance).