Instructor and contact information

Matt Lavin, 308 PBB (office in Plant Bioscience Building) and 408 Lewis Hall (MSU herbarium), email.
Location: 307 Lewis Hall
Lecture & Lab: Mondays 12:00-5:00 PM and online
Office hours: Mondays 10:00AM-12N in 408 Lewis Hall and by appointment.
Course announcements posted to Brightspace by D2L.

Purpose of course

The Agrostology course provides students with a high level of hands on experience working with graminoid specimens that represent over 150 of the most common graminoid species in Montana and adjacent states. Students will work each graminoid sample through dichotomous taxonomic keys with an emphasis on distilling the diagnostic traits for each species, genus, tribe (for grasses), and family to which each specimen belongs. Students have the option of creating a reference collections of all graminoid specimens provided to them such that they have that collection for future reference.

Course learning outcomes

Students will be able to: 1) relate botanical terminology with graminoid morphology in order to use dichotomous taxonomic keys; 2) identify over 150 of the most common graminoid species in Montana by combining sight identification with the use of dichotomous taxonomic keys; 3) use dichotomous taxonomic keys to distill the defining traits of graminoid families, tribes (for grasses), genera, and species; 4) predict the generalized habitat of a graminoid species from its membership in a graminoid genus, tribe, or family.

Prerequisites

A background in general botany including plant anatomy, morphology, physiology, and basic plant identification (e.g., as provided by BIOO 230, Identification of Seed Plants). A strong interest in learning graminoid identification and ecology is the most important prerequisite.

Items needed for this course

Text, required: Manual of Montana Vascular Plants, by Peter Lesica.
App, required: Montana Grasses at High Country Apps.
Hand lens (purchased at the MSU Bookstore, the Herbarium Supply Company, or at Amazon).
Forceps, needle, razor blade, or pocket knife for plant dissections.
Tape (or glue) and botanical paper (or any 8.5x11" paper) if you are making reference specimens.

Schedule of lecture-labs

30 August lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss eight species of wheatgrasses, tribe Triticeae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by Sunday, 12 September, at 11:59PM.
6 September lecture and lab: Labor Day, no classes
13 September lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss an additional 14 species of wheatgrasses, tribe Triticeae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 19 September, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve eight specimens of tribe Triticeae from the previous class.
20 September lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss species of needlegrasses, tribe Stipeae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 26 September, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve 14 specimens of tribe Triticeae from the previous class.
27 September lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss species of oniongrasses and mannagrasses, tribe Meliceae (and briefly introduce some species of the oatgrass tribe Aveneae). Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 3 October, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of tribe Stipeae from the previous class.
4 October lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss more species of oatgrasses, tribe Aveneae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 10 October, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of tribe Meliceae (and Aveneae) from the previous class.
11 October lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss species of bluegrasses, bromegrasses, fescuegrasses, tribe Poeae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 17 October, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of tribe Aveneae from the previous class.
18 October lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss additional species of bluegrasses, bromegrasses, fescuegrasses, tribe Poeae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 24 October, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of tribe Poeae from the previous class.
25 October lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss forest understory grasses and these will serve as a review of the five principal cool-season grass tribes. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 31 October, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of tribe Poeae from the previous class.
1 November lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss species of bluestem grasses and panicgrasses, tribes Andropogoneae and Paniceae and these will serve as an introduction to warm season grasses. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 7 November, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of understory grasses from the previous class.
8 November lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss species of warm season gramagrasses of the tribe Chlorideae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 14 November, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes anytime between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of tribes Andropogoneae and Paniceae from the previous class.
15 November lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss species of warm season lovegrasses of the tribe Eragrosteae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 28 November, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes between 3-11:59PM PM and these will involve specimens of tribe Chlorideae from the previous class plus one Paniceae species from the 1 November lecture-lab that superficially looks like Chlorideae.
22 November lecture and lab: No classes Thanksgiving week.
29 November lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss species of grasstribes Aeluropodeae, Aristideae, Arundineae, Danthonieae, Oryzeae, and Bambuseae.Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 5 December, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of tribe Eragrosteae from the previous class.
6 December lecture and lab: In class, I will provide, introduce, and discuss additional species of other graminoid families, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae, and Typhaceae. Online, a formative assessment dichotomous key quiz will be made available and due by the following Sunday, 12 December, at 11:59PM. An online plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes between 3-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of tribes Aeluropodeae etc. from the previous class.
13 December lecture and lab 12:00-1:50 PM: In class, no new specimens will be provided. Online, a plant identification quiz will be available for 40 minutes between 12:00-11:59PM and these will involve specimens of Cyperaceae, Juncaceae, and Typhaceae from the previous class. The 12:00-1:50 PM time frame is our regular class time for finals week, according to MSU's Fall 2021 final week schedule.
 

Class protocol

Every Monday from 12N~1:15PM (students with surnames beginning with B-K) or from 3~4:15PM (students with surnames beginning with L-T), I will introduce a set of ~10-15 graminoid species that are common throughout Montana and adjacent states. I will present the taxonomic and ecological features of a subset of these species, which will represent the graminoid group introduced for the day. With graminoid specimens, a hand lens, and a copy of Lesica’s book in hand, we will go through the dichotomous keys in Lesica in a reverse and forward manner. The intent here is for you to learn how to distill the essential diagnostic traits of each species, genus, tribe, and family. The intent also is for you to create mental landmarks with each of these common graminoid species and learn to use those mental landmarks to negotiate dichotomous keys with greater ease. For the subset of the ~10-15 species that we do not cover each class, you will have opportunity in the lab at other times on Monday afternoon or after class to study these. The lecture and lab will help you prepare for taking the weekly formative and summative assessment quizzes.

You can be successful in this course by spending time in the lecture, lab, and elsewhere, studying the diagnostic traits of as many graminoid species and specimens as possible and working them through taxonomic keys in a reverse and forward fashion while using a hand lens and dissection tool.

Graminoid specimens

We will identify 4 families, over 80 genera, 15 grass tribes, and over 150 species of native and introduced graminoids, all common to Montana and adjacent states. I will provide specimens for most if not all of these species. Specimens will be pressed and dried and handed out each class. Many students find that working with physical specimens greatly adds to their learning experience. However, this is not mandatory and you can simply use photographs on Flickr, the Montana Grasses App, the Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria, or iNaturalist, along with dichotomous keys, to learn graminoid identification and ecology. Regardless, you have the option of making a reference collection, which may have future use after completion of the course. You can finish this Agrostology course with a set of ~150 of the most common graminoid species. Your collection will not be graded and you can arrange it in any manner. Ideally, you should mount multiple related species per sheet of paper so that the size of your graminoid collection is minimal and therefore more useful. Putting related species on the same page accomplishes this and facilitates the comparison species-specific and genus-specific diagnostic traits. If you decide to make a graminoid reference collection, you will likely need a cutting instrument (e.g., knife, razor blade), dissecting needle, and forceps for preparing specimens and about 60+ sheets of 8 1/2 X 11" botany paper for mounting specimens with tape or glue (assuming you mount ~3 species per sheet of paper).

Course grading policies

Beginning Monday 30 August, each lecture/lab will have an online formative assessment quiz of 20 dichotomous key questions (or 20 points), which will be due the Sunday night before following class (e.g., Sunday 12 September at 11:59PM). This weekly formative assessment quiz will be administered through D2L and will cover the plant material provided during the previous class (usually about 10-15 plant specimens). Dichotomous key questions will guide you through the taxonomic keys in Lesica by answering specific questions pertaining to each of the specimens provided during the current week. Formative signifies that you will have three chances to take this quiz and be shown the correct answer after each attempt. Your attempt with the highest score is recorded.

Beginning Monday 13 September, each lecture/lab will be associated with an online 40-minute summative assessment quiz of 20 questions (or 20 points), mostly related to plant identification. These plant identification quizzes are to be taken that day anytime between 4-11:59PM. This weekly summative assessment quiz will be administered through D2L and will cover the plant material provided during the previous class (usually about 10-15 plant specimens). Plant identification quizzes will involve identifying the family, genus, species, and habitat of each species from the preceding week. Summative signifies that you will have one chance to take this quiz and will not be shown the correct answers until sometime after Monday.

Both the dichotomous key quizzes (formative) and the plant identification quizzes (summative) will include multiple choice and short answer questions (e.g., name the tribe, genus, and species). I will adopt a consistent and predictable quiz format starting with the first week so that any question or concerns you might have with the format of the course should be answered or addressed early during the course. For both the dichotomous key questions and identification quizzes, you can use a hand lens (or dissection scope), a dissection tool, a copy of Lesica's Manual of Montana Vascular Plants, and the Montana Grasses App.

The weekly due dates and times for each of the dichotomous key quizzes and graminoid identification quizzes are intended to maintain course flow and a pattern of regular study of plant specimens.

Your final grade will derive from the scores of 14 dichotomous key quizzes (20 points each; formative assessments) and 14 graminoid identification quizzes (20 points each; summative assessments). Grades will be assigned from the percent of points scored out of the total 560 points, 280 from the 14 dichotomous key quizzes (14 X 20 = 280) and 280 from the 14 graminoid identification quizzes (13 X 20 = 260). Grade categories will be (no minus or plus grade categories):
A - 90-100%
B - 79-89%
C - 68-78%
D - 57-67%
F - below 57%

Field sites in Bozeman

If you are inexperienced with graminoids in the field and would like to visit rangeland or wetland sites close to campus where graminoids are abundant and somewhat species diverse, let me know and we can arranged a time to meet at a specific locality (e.g., Burke Park, wetlands south of the Museum of the Rockies) to review the graminoids that are present (even in late summer or fall condition many diagnostic traits of graminoid species persist).

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: https://montana.campuslabs.com/eval-home/. 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 I will announce class reminders towards the end of the semester.

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 or suspect you have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Students who miss class for whatever reason will have plenty of opportunity to access course materials online. If you are concerned about missing a class, please contact me by email so that I can address your concerns. Also, documentation such as a "Doctor’s note" for medical excuses is NOT required. Indeed, 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. In summary, class absences should not be a concern because you can take this course completely online even though I will be in 307 Lewis Hall all afternoon every Monday this fall semester.

Mask requirement and course adjustments for COVID-19

As of 26 August through 1 October 2021, Montana State University requires students, faculty, staff, and students to wear face masks in every classroom, laboratory, studio, and any other indoor space where an MSU course is taught. Because of the ongoing pandemic, we will split the class into two groups that will show up at different times to reduce crowding in 307 Lewis Hall (see Class protocol, above). Also, you can take Agrostology mostly or entirely online. These measures, in addition to keeping the lab windows and door open all the time, will help minimize the spread of microbes in 307 Lewis Hall.

If an MSU student needs a special accommodation regarding the requirement to wear a face mask while attending a course indoors on campus, please contact the MSU Office of Disability Services. If, due to this requirement, an MSU student prefers to withdraw, the university will provide an extension and honor a full tuition and fees refund until Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

Montana State University encourages students, faculty and staff to take advantage of convenient, on-campus clinics for the COVID-19 vaccine. Schedule your appointment by going to: www.montana.edu/health/coronavirus.

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

  • Flickr collections of graminoid photos organized by family, tribe, genus, and species.
  • The Wikipedia glossary of botanical terms is an excellent resource.
  • The Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria is an image database that includes the images of all Montana graminoid specimens housed at the Montana State University Herbarium and many other herbaria in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., the University of Montana Herbarium). This is an excellent tool for identifying graminoids and generating data files for species occurrences in any geographic subregion of the Pacific Northwest (e.g., list of graminoids from any Montana county).
  • Explore iNaturalist photos by entering a graminoid scientific or common name in the search box.
  • Online treatments of the graminoid families Cyperaceae, JuncaceaePoaceae, and Typhaceae (which doesn't include Sparganiaceae) for the Flora of North America provide taxonomic keys and descriptions for families, tribes, genera, and species for all of North America.
  • High Country Apps develops plant identification apps for different regions of western North America (and elsewhere), including Montana Grasses and Flora of the Yellowstone Region.
  • USDA/NRCS PLANTS Database provides information specific to any graminoid species, including nativity status and wetlands category.