No organism lives completely on its own, isolated from other organisms. Instead, all organisms exist in a complex web of interactions that shapes where they live, how abundant they are, and, over long periods of time, even what kinds of characteristics they have. The study of these interactions, covering a broad range of topics from how adaptations to harsh temperatures like big ears and blood with antifreeze shape an organism’s distribution to how the return of wolves to Yellowstone has influenced the populations of everything from elk to trees, is the study of Ecology. The insights gained from the study of such interactions find application in a wide variety of fields, from epidemiology (the study of disease patterns) to agriculture, conservation, and environmental biology.
Ecology is a field that gains much strength from trying to develop broad, general rules to explain how organisms interact and what patterns might emerge from those interactions. This course focuses on many of these general ideas and explore examples of how they play out in nature. As an upper level course that is now required for both Biology and Environmental Science majors, class time is structured as open lectures and discussions. The class covers major topics in Ecology and also uses scientific papers to explore how scientists study these issues.