Department of Biology, Swarthmore College

Biology Major


The functioning of ecosystems involves the transformation of matter from organic to inorganic compounds and vice versa. The fauna and flora of earth mediates these transformations via processes such as decomposition, nutrient mineralization, photosynthesis and respiration. Consequently, changes in the composition and distribution of species are expected to have important effects on ecosystem functioning

Goal: This seminar will review the information available up to date in an attempt to answer the question proposed by Loreau et al, 2002: Can the current decline in biodiversity alter the functioning and stability of ecosystems and of the Earth System?

Seminar Structure (Reading List)

Meetings will begin with a 1-hour discussion, led by the previous meeting presenters. The discussion will be based on papers from the primary literature assigned by the presenters. This will be followed by a presentation of a new subject from two or three new presenters, who then assign a new set of papers for discussion the following meeting,

Presentations: Each student will give at least 2 or 3 presentations in groups of 2 or 3. Each group will determine both to divide up the topic and present independently or to co-research and co-present the entire topic. Students select from a list of suggested topics. Presentation will address background information needed to understand the papers assigned for later discussion.

Discussions: Each group of presenters chooses 2 or 3 additional papers for discussion in the week following their presentation. Papers are from the primary literature including peer-reviewed journals, and annual reviews. Papers should be relevant to the subject of their presentation and add more information to the topic of interest.
All students are required to read the papers and bring two written questions about each paper. A student chosen randomly will be called on to give a very brief summary of each paper.

Critical Reviews: 1 to 2 pages reviewing the discussion papers during the semester. These reviews are assigned to those students not presenting and are due the day the subject papers are discussed

Review Papers: Each presenter writes a paper 5 to 10 page long on an aspect of their second presentation. Review papers are not collaborative. The paper is due the week after the presentation.

Research Projects:

Here is a list of tentative projects that I find extremely interesting. Please read the articles associated with each of them and rank them based on your own interest:
1. Contribution of the Crum woods to the global carbon cycle: a sink or a source?
• Smithwick, E.A.H. et al. 2002. Potential upper bounds of carbon stores in forests of the Pacific Northwest. Ecological Applications, 12(5): 1303-1317
• Dukes, J. 2003. Burning buried sunshine: human consumption of ancient solar energy. Climatic Change, 61(31): 31-44
2. The role of exotic worms in the Crum woods: are there more worms in the west side where the vegetation of native species is reduced?
• Liu, Z.G. and X.M. Zou. 2002. Exotic earthworms accelerate plant litter decomposition in a Puerto Rican pasture and a wet forest. Ecological Applications, 12(5): 1406-1417
• Levine, J.M. et al. 2003. Mechanisms underlying the impact of exotic plant invasions. Proceeding s of the Royal Society of London. B, 270: 775-781
3. How to re-vegetate the open lands in and around the Crum woods? What are the benefits of doing this?
4. Any other suggestions?

Research Proposal: Final paper for BIO 137


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