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BIOE 370: General Ecology

    GOALS:  This class is intended to provide the following:

1.     In-depth understanding of the major areas of population ecology, including demography, single-species population dynamics, density-dependent regulation of populations.

2.      In depth understanding of interactions between pairs of species, including competition, predation (and disease if time allows).

3.     An introduction to other areas of ecology, such as community ecology (diversity and stability, island biogeography, succession), ecosystem ecology (carbon cycles) behavioral ecology (territoriality, optimal foraging), and evolutionary ecology (life history trade-offs).

4.     The first three goals are content-oriented.  In addition,  the class has three process-oriented goals:

         Class Hours & Location: 2:10 - 3:00 MWF, 339 LEON JOHNSON HALL.

        Instructor: Dr. Scott Creel, 302 Lewis Hall, Phone: 994-7033  Email: 
         Office Hours: MW 10:30 -12:00  or by appointment. If these hours are not convenient, please talk to me after class to arrange another time and we will figure something out.  I almost  always have time for questions right after class.  You're also welcome to email questions (but if you email me just before a test, I might not read it in time).

         Text: Elements of Ecology, 8th edition by Smith & Smith  is required. Any other reading will will be posted via links to pdf files on this web page.

        Lecture notes: are available from the links below.  I will update these regularly throughout the semester.
                Overheads: the figures that I use in overheads are posted as pdf files in the links below.  I occasionally add new material at the last minute, to incorporate  new studies,  but most of the overheads are in the pdf file links.

         Grading: Exam 1: 25%, Exam 2: 25%, Exam 3: 25%. (Exam 3 will fall in finals week.  A small part of it will be comprehensive, but it will primarily cover  new material)  The tests will mainly be multiple choice questions and perhaps some short answer. For some material, the tests involve doing calculations, so bring your calculator on exam days

Problem sets and/or quizes on computer exercises:  25%  Several subjects will include short homework assignments. In these, you will use the methods described in lectures to test ideas with computer simulations of population dynamics or interactions between species. In some cases, a graded homework assignment or a short quiz will be based on the computer exercise.  Together, these homework assignments account for 25% of the grade.  Doing one optional HW assignment will allow you to drop your lowest HW grade.

       Computer Exercises:  Some homework assignments will use the software packages GenX and POPULUS to examine evolution, population growth, and interactions among species (such as interspecific competition and predation), in a series of computer labs. POPULUS has simple simulations that allow you to manipulate the variables in mathematical models of ecological processes, and see the results graphically.  GenX lets you manipulate evolutionary forces in two populations.  Both are free programs that you can download and run on your own computer,

Download POPULUS from the developer's (Don Alstad's) site at U Minnesota.
Download GenX from this link.  GenX was developed by Brad Swanson at Purdue.

You can also run both programs on any MSU networked computer without downloading and installing them.   Look for GenX.exe and for the run.bat file in the Populus  folder within the Biology 303 folder at \\hopper\labshare (which you can access using 'Map Network Drive' by right-clicking 'My Computer' on any networked machine).   To learn about access to software on the MSU local network, see this link:  Using Network Drives to Access Software on the MSU network. 

Course Outline, lecture notes and reading assignments:  Lecture titles will be linked to lecture notes.  We will post each lecture’s notes after the lecture.

Topic Subtopics Reading           

Introduction to Ecology
Definitions of ecology, levels of ecological analysis, and types of ecological explanation

Rainfall and NPP example  from NASA earth observatory dataset, using MODIS satellite data.

Evolutionary Ecology

Evolutionary forces, selection & response, heritability

proximate/ultimate causation example -bat sonar
Thomson's gazelle & cheetah example
adaptive radiation example - WP finch (evolved to fill an empty niche after colonizing island with no woodpeckers)

Florida panther genetic drift example

Biston betularia color selection example

Fox color selection example (artificial selection by humans),

Maze-learning heritability in rats example
OH set 1

OH set 2


Evolutionary forces and population differentiaton: GenX simulation   There is no specific item to turn in from this exercise.  Work through it until you have a good understanding of interactions between natural selection, genetic drift and isolation to prepare for a short QUIZ using GenX.   HW will be explained and assigned FR 1/23 in class. Quiz over this assignment WED 1/28 in class.
" "

Abiotic processes

Global scale Global physical processes, biomes
OH set 3

Animation of Hadley cells, atmospheric pressure, and precipitation -  spatial and seasonal patterns of precipitation at the global scale

Animal Physiological Ecology

Animal physiological ecology - some adaptive solutions to temperature and water limitation

Knut Schmidt Nielsen
Charles Blagden
OH set 4

Plant Physiological Ecology

Plant physiological ecology - adaptive solutions to abiotic problems of water and temperature

Short quiz in class over abiotic processes (CH 2,6,7, OH set 3,4,5 and associated lectures) IN CLASS WED Feb 11

OH set 5

Study Guide for Animal and Plant Physiological Ecology

Climate Change

Carbon cycles, radiation budgets, anthropogenic effects, abiotic & ecological response

NASA - decadal global temperature anomaly
Keeling Curve, Vostok and other ice core data from NOAA
Ice core temperature reconstruction

GCM structure overview
(IPCC GCM  emission scenarios)

Ecological responses to climate change: figures and examples used in class:
Climate envelope approach: one, two.
Fitter & Fitter 2002 - plant phenology (see fig 1 & table 1)
Diamond et al 2011 - butterfly phenology
Burkle et al 2013 Plant bee phenological mismatch

Parmesan & Yohe (2003) global fingerprint

OH set 6

Life history

Basic life tables, population growth and life history trade-offs (using reproductive value)
life history introduction
survivorship, fecundity, Ro, T, r

HW2 (optional, score replaces lowest other HW/quiz grade)
DUE Wed 2/25 in class.

KEY for HW2

Life history trade off examples
CHAPTER 8  (as background)
CHAPTER 9 (section 9.2 onward)
CHAPTER 10 (sections 10.1 - 10.6)
OH set 7

GRADES FOR Q1 and Q2 listed by ID number

Exam one  will tentatively be Friday February 27th

Study Guide for Exam 1
(also see Physiological Ecology study guide posted above)

Population growth

Exponential vs density dependent growth exponential and density - dependent 
growth, limitation and regulation

Antechinus example
population growth examples
CHAPTER 9 (section 9.1)
OH set 8

Verhulst-Pearl, linear density dependence New wildebeest example.  Part 2

Populus example of linear density-dependent growth, including dynamics of time-lagged density-dependence.
Nonlinear density dependence - theta logistic example

Short quiz in class FR 3/20 over models of density-dependent population growth emphasizing understanding of the 4 plots in the Populus exercise with the Pearl Verhulst model.

 Interspecific competition

Lotka Volterra
Interspecific competition, competition coefficients, Lotka-Volterra Model

POPULUS EXERCISE: COMPETITION    Short in class quiz in class WE 3/25 over the Lotka-Volterra model of interspecific competition
CHAPTER 14 (sections 14.1 - 14.5)
OH set 9

African wild dog case study

Ecological Niches niche principles and  4 case studies
CHAPTER 13 (as background)
CHAPTER 14 (section 14.6 -14.11)
OH set 11


Help Session (answering questions) is 11:30 Monday 309 Lewis Hall

Test date is set, Monday 3/30 in class

UPDATED GRADES WITH EXAM 2.  I am not allowed to use full GIDs, so these are now sorted by the LAST 4 NUMBERS OF YOUR GID

Study guide


dingo and red kangaroo example

compensation vs additivity, harvest models and Lotka-Volterra model

Creel & Rotella 2010, Sparkman 2011 examples
2011 USWFS N Rockies wolf annual report
- for figures examining additive/compensatory harvest mortality

Collapse of N.Atlantic cod -risk of FQ harvest & tragedy of the commons

Huffaker 1958 mite experiments with predator - prey cycles - for figures only

lynx hare example
OH set 12

OH set 13

Harvest models, compensation vs additivity, Lotka - Volterra

Functional & numeric response
functional and numeric responses, empirical
data on predator-prey cycles

POPULUS EXERCISE: PREDATION  Brief  in class quiz on this exercise  FRIDAY 4/17.  Basic Lotka Volterra model and the effects of adding: (1) density dependent prey population growth, (2)  functional response by predators.
                                    OH set 14

Wolf-Elk case study Risk effects - the effects of predators on prey other than direct predation

Community and Ecosystem structure and function
Describing communities
What determines community diversity?
Diversity and stability

Island biogeography


CHAPTER 20 through
page 385
OH set 18

OH set 19

Update of class scores prior to final exam.  These now include all grades except the final, replacing low quiz score with optional HW.  The distribution of scores is now:

>= 90     37
80-89     67
70-79     37
60-69     18
<60         4

Final is in the regular room at 8:00 AM on WED MAY 6


A: 47
B: 52
C: 54
D: 9
F: 2

Study guide for final