Department of Biology, Swarthmore College

Biology Major

General Ecology

BIO 36 is designed to help you gain a better understanding of the science of ecology. We achieve understanding by working together in class, in the laboratory and in the field.

The goal of ecology is to explain the distribution and abundance of organisms in nature through an understanding of how organisms interact with their abiotic and biotic environments. In addition to studying natural history and learning some of the classical experiments, we will address ecological theory. Furthermore, we will study processes that operate within and between hierarchical levels of organization (e.g., individuals, populations, communities, ecosystems, landscapes). Finally, we will tie up all this fundamental knowledge and evaluate the current changes occurring in nature as a result of the human population growth.

Course Objectives

(1) Increase the students' ability to evaluate, discuss and write about key issues in ecology via readings, lectures, discussions, questions, essays, presentations, laboratory and field work.
(2) Improve ecological literacy by understanding how physical, biological and evolutionary processes affect individual organisms and their populations and communities that in turn affect ecosystem structure and function.
(3) Learn to ask questions in ecology and how to find possible answers via the application of the scientific method.
(4) Recognize that ecologists do not know all the answers: “Awareness of ignorance is the beginning of knowledge” Townsend, et al. 2000. There are plenty of issues we do not yet understand.
(5) Finally, understand the scope of the problems that we (humans) are facing such as unsustainable use of ecological resources, erosion, pollution, extinctions, etc.

Prerequisite: General Biology I/II and Mathematics or Calculus or Chemistry or Environmental studies

Course Format

Classes will typically consist of lecture time, interrupted frequently by questions and comments; class discussion via jigsaw exercises; student presentations; and question & answer sessions. The course emphasizes the use of active cooperative learning strategies to ensure interaction among students and instructor.
The laboratory portion will include work in the field, laboratory , computer and library. Field trips are mandatory.

Field trips, fieldwork, data analyses and reports: This is the section that I enjoy the most and hope that you will too! I will try very hard to inspire you with knowledge, enthusiasm, and love for the field of ecology. We will be getting the opportunity to explore some very interesting questions, to design some experiments and to gather and analyze tons of data.

Field trips
(1) Pine Barrens in New Jersey
(2) Pocono mesic till Barrens of Pennsylvania
(3) Serpentine Barrens in southeastern Pennsylvania
(4) Crum Woods of Swarthmore College
(5) In search of Eels: nightlife in the Crum Creek

(0) Statistical Test review
(1) Origin and maintenance of the different barren communities in eastern united states
(2) Net primary productivity in the Crum woods vegetation types
(3) Insect diversity and water quality of the Crum Creek


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