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 ECOLOGY: ECOSYSTEM DYNAMICS AND CONSERVATION

  Syllabus

Course Description

Class Schedule

Instructors

Format

Required Textbook

Support Services

Grading

Weekly Overview and Expectations

Course Description 

This course is an introduction to ecology and ecosystem dynamics using a systems thinking lens. Learners will explore how scientists study various ecosystems around the world—from Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, to the Hudson River in New York, to Caribbean coral reefs—and investigate the complex array of factors that inform management efforts. At the end of the course, learners will be able to grapple with real-world conservation questions, such as whether an ecosystem can recover from anthropogenic disruption and what role humans can, and should, play in that recovery.

Class Schedule

This is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion.  The  course is asynchronous and does not have specific meeting times. Assignments and discussions change on a weekly basis. Students are expected to complete work within the specific week it is assigned.

For the current schedule of offerings, please visit www.amnh.org/learn/calendar

     

Instructors

This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.

For current instructor information, please contact learn@amnh.org.

Format

  1. Ecology: Ecosystem Dynamics and Conservation is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. Enrollment is restricted to current or future educators. No prior course in neuroscience or evolutionary biology is required.
  2. Weekly activities include written reflection on weekly essential questions and using computer interactives to gather data on ecological systems. Essays, image galleries and videos will help learners visualize and master the content.
  3. Online discussions encourage reflection on course content, support and model the inquiry process, and sustain interaction between the offering scientists, seminar instructors, and course members.
  4. Final projects support the creation on inquiry-based lesson plans focused on a key course concept that might be incorporated into your teaching practice.

Required Textbook

This course requires the following textbook:

 

Ecology The Economy of Nature

Robert Ricklefs and Rick Relyea

7th Edition

ISBN: 1429249951

Support Services

Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing learn@amnh.org.

The American Museum of Natural History welcomes learners with disabilities into its Seminars on Science program and will make reasonable accommodations for them. Please contact learn@amnh.org if you require information about requesting accommodation services. These services are only available to registered students with documented disabilities. Please submit requests at least two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Grading

Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:

     

Course Assignments

30%

Course Participation & Communication

40%

Final Project

30%

  1. Course assignments will include reflection questions and written assignments.
  2. Class participation will be evaluated based on the quality and consistency of contribution to the discussion forum. The grades for participation will be posted two weeks after each question opens.
  3. Final Project - Application in the Classroom: This project allows learners to develop an application that could teach some aspect of the course content to students or other educators. The project may take the form of a classroom unit or a workshop plan (if used for professional development).
  1. Policy: Everything submitted as an assignment, project, or discussion post must be an original work. References to resource materials are expected and proper citation is required. Assignments are due on the dates specified. Late submissions will be penalized 10%. Revised assignments that incorporate your instructor’s feedback will be accepted until the course ends.

Weekly Overview and Expectations

Week 1: Can an ecosystem recover?

We begin in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, and pose the question: Can this ecosystem recover after a 15-year civil war? To answer this question, learners must first consider what they need to know—what are the parts that make up this ecosystem, and how do they interact and work together? How do ecosystems react to disruption? How do we know? We will begin to explore the ecosystem as a dynamic whole rather than as a collection of parts, considering  how changes might affect the system in a variety of ways. This application of a systems thinking lens to understanding ecosystems will be a common theme throughout the course.

Learners will:

  • Define what an ecosystem is and apply this definition to a real-life example, identifying some of an ecosystem’s unique components and the relationships among them.
  • Reflect on how changes in an ecosystem can have varying effects, and begin to consider the system as a dynamic whole rather than a collection of parts.

NGSS Connections

  • Disciplinary Core Ideas: LS2.B: How do matter and energy move through an ecosystem? and LS2.C: What happens to ecosystems when the environment changes?
  • Cross-cutting Concepts: Systems and System Models; Scale, Proportion and Quantity; Patterns

Week 2: How do we study populations?

This week, we narrow the focus to populations within ecosystems. Who or what populates an ecosystem, and what are their roles? How do these roles change over time? What happens when a species is removed from a system? How do scientists study the populations within an ecosystem, from its largest to its smallest inhabitants? Learners will look for patterns in their own observations using the Wildcam Gorongosa (a series of remote trail cameras throughout Gorongosa National park) and then use the week’s resources to understand population dynamics. Learners will explore the important roles different species can playsuch as ecosystem engineers, keystone species, and indicator speciesand how they shape their ecosystems.

Learners will:

  • Explore how species are adapted to their environments.
  • Describe or predict how a population will change over time -- graphically, verbally, or quantitatively.
  • Illustrate the different roles species can play and how these help shape a system (e.g., keystone species, indicator species).

NGSS Connections

  • Disciplinary Core Idea: LS2.A: How do organisms interact with the living and nonliving environments to obtain matter and energy?
  • Cross-cutting Concepts:  Stability and Change; Systems and System Models

Week 3: How do species coexist?

Last week we looked at what happens when a population is removed from an ecosystem, but what happens when you add a population? How does it affect the other players? This week we focus on community ecology and further explore the interactions between species in an ecosystem. We begin a two-week investigation into the Hudson River ecosystem, where a zebra mussel invasion has had cascading effects. Learners will apply their new understanding of species interactions to interpret real data on the dynamics within the river community.  

Learners will:

  • Classify interactions between species by how they affect each other directly, indirectly and whether in positive, negative or neutral ways, and reflect on the complex, shifting nature of these classifications.
  • Predict the impact of the addition or loss of a species on an ecosystem.
  • Describe the different ways a habitat can be partitioned as species occupy different niches, such as spatially, temporally, or by diet.

NGSS Connections

  • Disciplinary Core Idea: LS2.B: How do matter and energy move through an ecosystem?
  • Cross-cutting Concepts: Cause and Effect; Systems and System Models

Week 4: How is an ecosystem a system?

This week, learners will further their understanding about what makes an ecosystem a system by examining the flow of energy and matter through different parts of the environment. This includes understanding the interactions of biotic and abiotic factors within an ecosystem and the services each component provides. Continuing our investigation into the Hudson River ecosystem, learners will look at the short-term and long-term impacts of a disturbance on an aquatic ecosystem and its resilience. We will also be introduced to the complicated effects of both abiotic (climate change) and biotic (herbivory) interactions within a coastal salt marsh system, touching on ecological concepts of thresholds in a system and ecosystem resistance and resilience.

Learners will:

  • LG1: Describe how matter and energy move in an ecosystem, connecting biotic and abiotic components and reflecting on the complexity of interactions.
  • LG2: Explore how the interactions within an ecosystem results in functions and services, and consider the factors that influence an ecosystem’s resilience to change.
  • LG3: Study a real-life case of a functioning ecosystem and analyze how its response to disturbance exhibits system-like properties.

NGSS Connections

  • Disciplinary Core Ideas: LS2.B: How do matter and energy move through an ecosystem? and LS2.C: What happens to ecosystems when the environment changes?
  • Cross-cutting Concepts: Energy and Matter: Flows, Cycles and Conservation; Systems and System Models; Stability and Change

Week 5: How are humans part of the ecosystem?

This week we turn to the role of humans in ecosystems: how humans interact with and are shaped by their environments. We explore the meaning of the “anthropocene” (the title given to the current geological age in recognition of significant impact of human activities) and investigate management approaches that balance human needs and biodiversity. A case study looks at the interplay of  biodiversity conservation and  local fishery activities using marine reserves. Learners will begin to grapple with the difficulty of implementing conservation solutions in the face of complex or “wicked” problems.

Learners will:

  • Investigate the concept of the “anthropocene” and how humans influence—and are influenced by —their environments.
  • Explore how humans manage their environments and evaluate the trade-offs between conservation and development goals, for a particular case study.

NGSS Connections

  • Disciplinary Core Idea: LS2.C: What happens to ecosystems when the environment changes?
  • Cross-cutting Concepts:  Systems and System Models; Stability and Change; Cause and Effect

 

Week 6: Reprise: Can an ecosystem recover?

We return to Gorongosa National Park to wrap up the course. The conversation shifts from "Can an ecosystem recover?" to "Should it recover?" and "What does a successful recovery look like?" We explore how conservation might have to adjust to future challenges such as climate change, extinctions, and human population growth. We also introduce the idea that a spectrum of conservation approaches is necessary, from the preservation of land and species, to the integration of biodiversity into market economies, to the creation and management of “novel” ecosystems. Learners return to their concept maps from the beginning of the course to incorporate their new expertise.

Learners will:

  • Appreciate how the diversity of human values and culture affects decisions about ecosystem management.
  • Reconsider the implications of ecosystem recovery and reflect on what changed in their understanding of ecosystems and their dynamics.
  • Demonstrate how course participants can apply the concepts from the course to their teaching of ecology.

NGSS Connections

  • Disciplinary Core Idea: LS4.D: There are many different kinds of living things in any area, and they exist in different places on land and in water.
  • Cross-cutting Concepts: Stability and Change; Systems and System Models