Instructors and contact information

  • Ryan Thum (1st half of the Spring Semester), Office hours: Tuesdays 2-3PM, Wednesdays 2:05-3PM, and by appointment in 313 Plant Bioscience Building, email.
  • Matt Lavin (2nd half of the Spring Semester), Office hours: Mondays 10AM-12:30PM and by appointment in 308 Plant Bioscience Building, email.
  • Sophie Winitsky, Teaching Assistant, Office hours: Tuesdays 1:00-3:00PM and by appointment, Recitation session: Tuesdays 12-1PM all via WebEx, email.
Lecture: Monday Wednesday Friday 9-9:50AM (section 01) in 105 Reid Hall or 1-1:50PM (section 02) in 101 Reid Hall

Items needed for this course

No textbook is required but check out the relevant websites section at the end of this syllabus. If you would like to purchase an Evolution textbook or check one out from the library to use as a reference, we recommend Carl T. Bergstrom and Lee Alan Dugatkin’s Evolution, 2nd Edition and Jon Herron and Scott Freeman’s Evolutionary Analysis, 5th Edition. In addition, iClickers are not needed for this course because all course content is provided on D2L Brightspace, including formative and summative assessments.


A course in genetics (e.g., BIOB 375)

Course learning outcomes

Students will be able to 1) Describe the four fundamental processes of evolution: mutation, migration (gene flow), genetic drift, and selection. 2) Predict the evolutionary response to selection on quantitative traits using the concept of heritability. 3) Interpret phylogenetic trees and use phylogenetic and other methods for inferring the history of biological evolution with genetic and morphological data. 4) Apply analytical methods covered in the course to questions related to population management, forensics, epidemiology, and adaptation. 5) describe why accepting the truth of biological evolution is not the issue compared to valuing "the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that now make belief in evolution obligatory" (Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape).

The expertise of your instructors is organismal biology whereas research that addresses the ultimate origins of life involves cosmology and biochemistry. If interested in such research, a Google search of abiogenesis provides a Wikipedia starting point for the history and recent advances into research on the origin of life. Also look into the concept of the chemoton. Intelligent Design is not addressed in this course because it represents a sociological rather than scientific issue (e.g., Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District).

Schedule of lectures

11 January. Ryan Thum begins lecturing. Course Introduction; Natural Selection.
13 January. Natural selection: concepts.
15 January. Natural selection: concepts.
18 January. Martin Luther King Day, no class.
20 January. Natural selection: empirical examples.
22 January. Natural selection: empirical examples.
25 January.  Natural selection: important points.
27 January. Population Genetics: Intro/Hardy-Weinberg/Selection.
29 January. Population Genetics: Intro/Hardy-Weinberg/Selection.
1 FebruaryPopulation Genetics: Selection.
3 February. Exam  #1.
5 February. Population Genetics: Selection.
8 February. Population Genetics: Selection.
10 February. Population genetics: Drift & Migration.
12 February. Population Genetics: Migration and Mutation.
15 February. Presidents Day, no class.
17 February. Quantitative Genetics: Quantitative Traits.
19 February. Quantitative Genetics: Heritability.
22 February. Quantitative Genetics: Response to Selection.
24 February. Quantitative Genetics: Multiple Traits.
26 February. Quantitative Genetics: Multiple Traits.
1 March. Review for Exam #2.
3 March. Exam #2.
5 March. Matt Lavin's introduction to 2nd half of class.
8 March. Case study 1 on YNP grizzly bears and southern California bighorn sheep.
10 March. Case study 2 on westslope cutthroat trout and related evolutionary concepts.
12 March. Case study 2 on westslope cutthroat trout and related evolutionary concepts.
15 March. Case study 3 on human migration and related evolutionary concepts.
17 March. Case study 3 on human migration and related evolutionary concepts.
19 March. Case study 4 on the Snake River sockeye and related evolutionary concepts.
22 March. Case study 5 on the North American grey wolf from the taiga forest (1st part).
24 March. Review for Exam #3.
26 March. Exam #3.
29 March. Case study 5 on the North American grey wolf (2nd part) and related evolutionary concepts.
31 March. Case study 6 on Montana Ponderosa pine.
2 April. University Day, no class.
5 April. Case study 6 on Montana Ponderosa pine.
7 April. Case study 7 on Gunnison sage grouse.
9 April. Case study 7 on Gunnison sage grouse.
12 April. Case study 8 involving phylogenetic forensics.
14 April. Case study 8 involving phylogenetic forensics.
16 April. Case study 9 involving parsimony analysis of catarrhine primates.
19 April. Case study 9 involving parsimony analysis of Cetartiodactyla.
21 April. The intellectual reach or extension of phylogenetics.
23 April. Review for Exam #4.
26 April. Exam #4.
The Registrar publishes the final exam schedule for each semester.

Course grading policies

Formative assessments – 20% of your final grade
  • These assessments are graded based only on you completing them. You are not graded on getting the correct answer(s). These are designed to help you identify which topics/content areas you are strong versus weak on so you can target areas that need work for your studying. And, formative assessments help us identify content areas to focus more or less time on.
  • Formative assessments comprise quiz question posted to the Quizzes section in D2L. These question will serves as preparation for the exam questions.
Summative assessments – 80% of your final grade
  • These assessments are graded based on whether you get them correct. Summative assessments evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit.
  • Summative assessments will come in the form of four exams scores. Each exam score will contribute 20% to your final grade.
Grades will be assigned from the percent of points scored out of the total (4 exams accounting for 80% of your final percent score and daily formative assessments accounting for 20% of your final percent score). Grade categories will follow (no plus minus categories):
A - 90-100%
B - 79-89%
C - 68-78%
D - 57-67%
F - below 57%
We do not plan on assigning + or - grade categories.

Course evaluation by students

The IDEA course evaluation is open and available for students for a few weeks prior to finals week each semester. Please take a moment to participate in evaluating your course. Mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, iPods, etc. can be used to access the surveys. You can complete course surveys by accessing the following link: You may log in with your NetID and password or you may go through the link in D2L. You will receive a notification and email reminders to complete your course surveys but class reminders can be helpful.

Wearing face coverings (masks) in classrooms is required

Face covering means a fabric, paper, or disposable face covering that covers the nose and mouth and which does not have an exhalation valve. Face coverings are required in all indoor spaces and all enclosed or partially enclosed outdoor spaces. MSU requires all students to wear face masks or cloth face coverings in classrooms, laboratories and other similar spaces where in-person instruction occurs. MSU requires the wearing of masks in physical classrooms to help mitigate the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. The MSU community views the adoption of these practices as a mark of good citizenship and respectful care of fellow classmates, faculty, and staff. Complete details about MSU’s mask requirement can be found at These requirements from the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education are detailed in the MUS Healthy Fall 2020 Guidelines, Appendix B. For more information:

Accommodations for not wearing a face covering

Individuals whose unique and individual circumstances require an exception to the face covering requirement, as indicated by a medical professional, may request one in accordance with the campus ADA policies. Students should contact the Office of Disability Services at 994-2824 or [email protected] It is strongly recommended that students make contact prior to arriving on campus in order to provide adequate time for their request to be evaluated.

Heath-related class absences

Please evaluate your own health status regularly and refrain from attending class and other on-campus events if you are ill. Students who miss class due to illness will have plenty of opportunity to access course materials online. If you are concerned about missing a class, please contact me by email as soon as practical so that I can address your concerns. Documentation such as a "Doctor’s note" for medical excuses is NOT required. Please note that the MSU University Health Partners - as part their commitment to maintain patient confidentiality, to encourage more appropriate use of healthcare resources, and to support meaningful dialogue between instructors and students - does not provide such documentation.

Diversity statement

It is our intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well-served by this course, that students' learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is our intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity: gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, religion, culture, perspective, and other background characteristics. Your suggestions about how to improve the value of diversity in this course are encouraged and appreciated. Please let us know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally or for other students or student groups. In addition, in scheduling exams, we have attempted to avoid conflicts with major religious holidays. If, however, we have inadvertently scheduled an exam that creates a conflict with your religious observances, please let us know so that we can make alternative arrangements.

Inclusivity statement

We support an inclusive learning environment where diversity and individual differences are understood, respected, appreciated, and recognized as a source of strength. We expect that students, faculty, administrators and staff at MSU will respect differences and demonstrate diligence in understanding how other peoples' perspectives, behaviors, and worldviews may be different from their own. If you are a student with a disability and wish to use your approved accommodations for this course, please contact us via email and if needed we can arrange a meeting. Please have your Accommodation Notification or Blue Card available for verification of accommodations. Accommodations are approved through the Office of Disability Services located in SUB 174.  Please see Disability Services for more information.

Relevant websites providing definitions, examples, data, or tools for analysis