Ecology online - Summer C 2019

Course Instructor

Learning Assistants:

Ridha Ahmad, Kelcey Homilus, & Sofia Ocampo

Dr. Suzanne Koptur

Professor of Biology

PLTL: online sections available, also in person, for summer C term

OE 232, ph. 305-348-3103; email:



Virtual office hours

Tuesday 4 – 6 pm EST

Thursday 3 – 5 pm EST; and by appt.

Course hosted in Canvas

What can Ecology do for you?

Have you ever wondered how things in nature have become the way they are? What is the worth and role of organisms, and non-living parts of ecosystems, on the earth? How do organisms adapt to environmental stresses? How are organisms modified in response to their environments? How can the life history of a species be used to evaluate and compare its strategies for reproduction and interactions with other species? How do organisms and habitats compare in different biomes around the world? How does energy flow and nutrients cycle through food webs and communities? How can we compare and evaluate communities in terms of species richness and diversity? What roles have humans played in transforming natural ecosystems? And what are our prospects for conservation of remaining biodiversity?  In this course you will use your foundation in biology, chemistry, and math to explore the data examining and implications of the answers to these questions. 


Learning goals:

            Students completing this course should gain foundational knowledge, including:  the worth and role of all organisms and non-living parts of ecosystems on the earth; how organisms adapt to environmental stresses; how organisms are modified in response to their environments; how life histories can be used to evaluate and compare strategies for reproduction and interactions with other species; how organisms and habitats compare in different biomes around the world, and how things have come to be the way they are; energy flow and nutrient cycles through food webs and communities; how communities can be compared in terms of species richness and diversity; the role humans have had in transforming natural ecosystems; the prospects for conservation of remaining biodiversity; and more. 

You will integrate and apply what learn to hypothetical and real-world situations, preparing for challenges you may face in future courses, research, employment, and life.  Students will solve problems, retrieve and synthesize informatiom, write, present, and work with others.  Hopefully, you will also become aware of the consequences of our/human actions on natural biota, and what can be done to ameliorate negative effects and promote ecosystem health. 

Class Content:

            Concepts will be presented in our textbook and recorded lectures by the professor and videos available on our course website.  There will also be readiness quizzes over the reading, and other assignments to be completed online to augment your learning. We will use small-group learning, and students will engage in contests, discussions, games, problem solving, and various assessment techniques to facilitate their understanding of the material.

            Writing in Ecology: The writing component of the course has two main parts:  short essay assignments, and two group projects called jigsaws.  The essays will pop up in class throughout the semester, and the best 80% of them will be counted for a percentage of your final grade.  The jigsaws will be done in groups on assigned topics, in stages; we will have some training in library research to help you find references relevant to your topics, and you should start projects early enough to find relevant references, read the scientific articles, as well as other relevant information found from other sources, and to put together your ideas.   Groups will present their findings online, and also turn in their words via to verify originality.  Students will review the work of other groups’ presentations and also report their group members contributions to their final products.  Needless to say, plagiarism is unethical and will not be tolerated in this or any course activity.     

            We will also explore the quantitative aspects of ecology using exercises and models, including some in our textbook.  Learning Assistants will facilitate group work, as well as interact with students in discussions and other activities. The PLTL session each week will focus on strengthening comprehension and recall of important things covered week by week, and is part of the lecture class grade.  Packback (see below) will offer a continuous forum for discussing course material, and sparking interest in areas that might have been overlooked. We plan that all parts of the course will work together to give you a dynamic understanding of this science and its interfaces with mathematics, statistics, and other sciences. 

PLTL: Peer Led Teaching and Learning sessions are required for Ecology online. You may register for a session that takes place online, or you may also join a PLTL session that meets in a classroom on campus.  Each week you will do worksheets that review important concepts, in a session led by an undergraduate student who has previously taken the course.  Our data have shown that students with PLTL do markedly better than those who do not have it; that is why it is now required for this course.

PackBack:  For the first time in Ecology online, we will use PackBack, an online learning tool, to facilitate weekly discussions on the topics of the week. Participation is a requirement for this course, and the Packback Questions platform will be used for online discussion about class topics. Packback Questions is an online curiosity community where you can be fearlessly curious and ask BIG questions about how what we’re studying relates to life and the real world. My goals for using Packback are for us to hear more about, and discuss, some topics that are not  covered in depth in my lectures, yet are important, interesting, and relevant.  I also hope to increase participation by students who often prefer to sit back in person, as there are many hidden diamonds we might otherwise not see.

            Your participation on Packback will count towards 10 percent of your final grade. In order to receive your points per week, you must post 1 Question and 2 Answers per week, relevant to our class subject matter that week (i.e., focused on the chapters and topics covered that week).   Before you start posting, be sure to read the Community Guidelines found in the tutorial on Packback. If your post doesn’t follow the Packback Community Guidelines, there is a chance it will be removed and you won’t receive points for that post. There will be a Sunday 11:59 PM deadline for submissions in your community each week. Note: it takes 24 hours for the Packback team to moderate a post and send a coaching email. If by any reason your post is moderated because it does NOT meet the Community Guidelines, you will need to edit and re-publish your post to receive credit for the week. This is why it is important that you complete your Packback questions and responses a few days before the deadline, in case your post needs repairs.

How to Register on Packback: There is a fee for registering with Packback ($25 unless you have used it previously in another course, then reduced). You will receive a welcome email from prompting you to finish registration.   Packback has already created an account for you with your school email, all you need to do is reset your password. This email may be directed to spam or filtered out, so make sure you do a thorough scan of your inbox if you can't find the email.


            This course will involve continuous assessment, not all of the graded kind: some will be educative in nature, allowing us to know if you have learned the material, and helping you to learn more in the process of being assessed. One way this will be accomplished is with exams at the end of each module.  Another way is with student assessments of your own knowledge at the beginning of the course, and learning gains, along with some other in-class surveys.

Individual/Group assessments – end-of module exams (four highest scores out of five - 30%) and online quizzes (10%)


Final Exam


Best 80% of "pop" essay grades and other activities


Jigsaws – two presentations with written components


PLTL - attendance, participation, and performance


Packback – posting at least one question and two responses each week


Syllabus for Ecology (PCB 3043) online – Summer C 2019

Textbook:  Ricklefs, R.E. and R. Relyea. 2014.  Ecology: The Economy of Nature, 7th edition, W.H Freeman and Company, New York.   

 Schedule of events


Dates to open

Lecture Topic

Readings - R&R chapter


6 May 2019

Pre-test and Introduction

Read through module 0 and get familiar with course

On to Module 1 –

read ch. 1 of textbook

take quiz 1

listen to lecture – Introduction

watch short videos – What is Ecology? And Giant pandas in China




8 May

The Physical Environment - Water and Nutrients – adaptations to the aquatic environment

Read ch. 2 in textbook

Take quiz 2

Watch lecture – Physical Environment: water and nutrients

Watch plant nutrition video

Essay: Ecological questions about your favorite organism (due by 14 May)


10 May

The Physical Environment - Light, Energy, Heat – adaptations to the terrestrial environment

Read ch. 3 in text book

Take quiz 3

Watch lectures:  

Light and energy

Heat and energy

Watch videos on photosynthesis and Emperor penguins

Do area/volume relationships exercises and submit answers

Biomes assignment – begin collaboration on topics – use collaboration option in our Canvas course



13 May

Variation in Climate and Soils

Read chapters 4 and 5

Take quiz on chapters 4 and 5

Watch lectures:

Biological Communities

Soils & Biomes

Watch videos on soil, soil textures, pottery making, and survival of trees

Work with partners on Biomes project

 4 & 5

15 May

Read chapter 6

Take quiz on chapter 6



17 May

Biomes Group presentations due today – review and feedback – all online

Students evaluate each group’s presentation, and evaluates their own group’s collaboration – feedback due 20 May



20 May

Exam 1  - online – from 12 am until 11:59 pm (can be taken twice – by yourself first time – second time later - start before 11 pm at latest to allow 1 hr at least)


Module 2

22 May

Evolution and Adaptation 

Read chapter 7

Take quiz on chapter 7

Watch lectures:

Adaptation and Natural Selection

A. & S. part 2 – Behavioral Plasticity

Evolutionary Change and Genetic Fixation

Watch videos on the Galapagos finches and the Peppered Moth

Write Essay # 2 – herbivore and tree evolution



24 May

Life Histories and Fitness

Read chapter 8

Take quiz on chapter 8

Watch lectures:

Life History Strategies

Life History Theory

Watch videos on Bacteria, and Birds of Paradise, Crickets



27 May

Reproductive Strategies

Read chapter 9

Take quiz on chapter 9

Watch lecture:

Sex and Family

Watch videos on Beetles and Sex in the Insect World

Complete activities sheet on Life Histories, Fitness, and Reproductive Strategies


29 May

Social Behavior

Read chapter 10

Take chapter 10 quiz

Watch lecture:

Society and Evolution

Watch videos: mountain lions, prairies dogs

Listen to recordings: Charles Darwin meets Snoop Dogg

Complete Clutch Size vs. Age of First Reproduction activity



31 May

Exam 2 - online – from 12 am until 11:59 pm (can be taken twice – by yourself first time – second time later - start before 11 pm at latest to allow 1 hr at least)


Module 3

3 June

Population Distribution

Read chapter 11

Take quiz on chapter 11

Watch lectures:

Population structure

Population size

Watch videos: Bugger off and Mark/recapture

Complete Mark/recapture activities with butterfly and vole simulated populations

Species interaction jigsaw assignment – library training - begin collaboration on topics



5 June

Population Growth and Regulation

Read chapter 12

Take quiz on chapter 12

Watch lectures:

Population Growth

Life Tables

Population Regulation

Watch videos: Pied Flycatcher, Dall sheep, Thinning your plants

Write essay individually and submit online



7 June

Population Dynamics   

Read chapter 13

Take quiz on Chapter 13

Watch lectures:

Population dynamics

Time delays and oscillations

Watch videos: monarch butterflies, moose and wolves, and manatees

Complete Population dynamics activities in an online group collaboration



10 June

Exam 3


Module 4

12 June

Predation and Herbivory

Read chapter 14

Take quiz on Chapter 14

Watch lectures:


Mimicry and modeling predation


Watch videos: body invaders, black racer, plant vs. predator

Complete assignment:  predation experiment

Write up results of predation experiment and submit online




14 June

Parasitism and Infectious Diseases

Read chapter 15

Take quiz on chapter 15

Watch videos: lyme disease, S-I-R model on prime time



17 June


Read chapter 16

Take quiz on Chapter 16

Watch lectures:


Modeling Competition

Watch videos: gooseneck barnacles, mussel-eating competition

Complete activity on competition models and turn in online



19 June

Exam 3  


Module 4

21 June


Read chapter 17

Take quiz on Chapter 17

Watch lectures:

Coevolution and Mutualism

Modeling Mutualism

Watch videos: I’iwi bird, crazy ant farmers

Complete activity on Complex Interactions and turn in online



21 June

Species Interactions Jigsaw Presentations  due  today – peer review and feedback by 26 June



26 June

Exam 4 


Module 5

28 June

Community Structure  

Read chapter 18

Take quiz on Chapter 18

Watch lectures:

Community Structure

Community Attributes

Watch videos: James Lovelock, Trophic Level Cascades

Complete activity on Community Diversity and turn in online



1-5 July

Catch up week!



8 July

Community Succession

Read chapter 19

Take quiz on Chapter 19

Watch lectures:

Community development -succession

Community development – models of succession

Community development – disturbance

Watch videos: Mayan community discovered, beaver dams, volcanic eruptions

Complete group activity on succession and submit online in discussion forum


10 July

Energy in Ecosystems

Read chapter 20

Take quiz on chapter 20

Watch lectures:

Energy pyramids and productivity

Energy transfer

Watch video: Frances Moore Lappe

Complete Energy in Ecosystems problems and activities – turn in online



12 July

Elements in Ecosystems

Read chapter 21

Take quiz on chapter 21

Watch lectures:

Elemental cycles

Nutrient flow

Watch videos: acid rain

Complete group activity – elemental cycles – submit online



15 July

Exam 5


 Module 6

17 July

Landscape Ecology, Biogeography, and Biodiversity

Read chapter 22

Take quiz on chapter 22

Watch lecture:

Biodiversity and Niche Theory

Watch videos:

Complete individual activity – poem or creative composition – submit online



19 July

Conservation of Biodiversity

Read chapter 23

Take quiz on Chapter 23

Watch lectures:

Conservation Biology

Conservation and Extinction

Watch videos: spotted owl and Green Ninja

Complete Endangered Species group activity and submit online



22 July

Exam 6



26 July

Cumulative Final Exam



28 July

Complete all surveys and work by today – Summer C term ends