ECOLOGY: ECOSYSTEM DYNAMICS AND CONSERVATION
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.
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
This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.
For current instructor information, please contact email@example.com.
This course requires the following textbook:
Ecology: Concepts and Applications
Molles, Manuel and Sher, Anna
McGraw-Hill Education; 8th Edition (2018)
Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com 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.
Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:
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.
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 play—such as ecosystem engineers, keystone species, and indicator species—and how they shape their ecosystems.
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.
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.
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.
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.