NS107: ECOLOGY A and Lab (3 credits)


This course is a survey of concepts in ecology with emphasis on ecosystem ecology, biogeography, and evolution.  Topics include ecosystem energetics, nutrient cycling, global weather and climate, biomes and natural communities, natural selection, diversity of life, and ecological relationships.  We begin with a broad survey of ecological concepts at play in all ecosystems and apply these to specific terrestrial biomes such as tundra, boreal forest, temperate forest, temperate grassland, desert, chaparral, tropical savanna, and tropical rainforest.  We conclude with an investigation into evolutionary theory and its applications to biodiversity.  


INSTRUCTOR: Laura Beebe 586-2296 (home) lbeebe@sterlingcollege.edu

                            Office hours: Tuesdays: 1:00-4:00, Wednesdays 10:00-12:00,

                                   Fridays 1:00-4:00 or by appointment

REQUIRED TEXT: Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare: An Ecologist’s Perspective by  Paul Colinvaux

                                 Elements of Ecology, 6th Edition by Thomas Smith and Robert Smith

Additional Text: Supplemental handouts will be given periodically

FORMAT: 1.30 hrs lecture/3.15 hrs field sessions and discussions per week


        Students will develop knowledge and skills in the following areas:

                *understanding of energy flow, primary productivity, ecological limiting factors                         (light, temperature, moisture, nutrients),ecological efficiency, trophic levels,                             and food pyramids for a variety of ecosystems

                *understanding nutrient cycling, particularly the basic dynamics of the                                 carbon and nitrogen cycles, and nutrient characteristics according to biomes

                *understanding of global climatic regimes and how climate influences ecological                         limiting factors, soils and vegetation

                *understanding of biomes, community concepts and their ecological                                 dynamics, including tundra, boreal forest, temperate forest, temperate                                 grasslands, deserts, chaparral, tropical savanna, and tropical rainforest

                *understanding of ecological succession and implications for productivity and                         diversity

                *understanding of evolutionary theory, including natural selection and                                 ecological fitness, species concepts, allopatry and sympatry,                                         selection pressures, etc.

                *understanding of ecological relationships such as predator prey, parasitism,                         commensalism and mutualism

                *understanding of ecological adaptations of organisms to specific environments

                *understanding of concepts of biodiversity and trends in diversity

                *an introduction to biogeographic concepts and implications for conservation


* active, informed participation (including all lectures, discussions, group quizzes, field         trips, etc., on time, alert, well-read and ready to engage)…………………..30%

*Assessments and Assignments (7 assignments @ 10% each)………….....….…...70%

Students are expected to turn assignments in at the start of class on the days assigned. Missing assignments will receive a reduction of a whole letter grade for each day the work is late.


Students are expected to contact the instructor prior to a class absence. It is the responsibility of the student to make up missed content and turn in assignments.

Students who miss more than 3 classes for any reason during the course of the semester will receive a reduced final grade by one full letter for each additional class missed.

For example:   a student misses 4 classes and ends the semester with a B- , the final adjusted grade would be a C-.



Wk 1:        9.24:         Classroom session: Planet Earth, Intro. to Ecology

                (origins of ecology, directions in ecology)

                Ecosystem energetics

                (trophic levels, defining energy, energy flow and thermodynamics, caloric exchange,         primary productivity, ecological limiting factors) 


Field session: Virginia- Russell Woods (ecological niche, local vegetative communities)


Assignments: (read ch 1-3- Colinvaux)

                        (ecosystems pyramid w/sources due 10.1)

Wk 2:        10.1:         Classroom session: Ecological efficiency

                (Transeau’s study, factors influencing productivity and efficiency, atmospheric CO2,                         dynamics of photosynthesis, etc.)                


Field session: Sterling Woods (energy strategies of the North Woods)


Assignments: (read ch 4- Colinvaux, “Woods Whys” Handouts)

Wk 3:        10.8:         Classroom session: Population Dynamics, Succession

                (populations, carrying capacities, succession, research methods in field ecology)


Field session: The Black River (research methods in field ecology)  


Assignments: (read ch 12- Colinvaux)

                                        (Ecological glossary part I due 10.15)

Wk 4:         10.15:         Classroom session: Nutrient cycling

(defining nutrients, Carbon cycle, Nitrogen cycle, where nutrients are held in systems)


                Field session: TBA, Soil Sampling Methods


                Assignment: (read ch7- Colinvaux)




Wk 5:        10.22:         Classroom session: Biomes and natural communities

                (defining biomes and natural communities; introduction to terrestrial biomes and major                         ecological characteristics of each)


Classroom session (no field session this week): Global weather and climate

                Assignments: (read ch 5, 6- Colinvaux)

                                 (take home questions due 10.29)

Wk 6:        10.29:         Classroom session & slides: Tundra and Boreal Forest

                (geography, ecological limiting factors, vegetation types, plant and animal adaptations)


Field session: Center for Northern Studies (boreal forest)                 

                (geography, ecological limiting factors, vegetation types, plant and animal adaptations)


Assignments: (read “Why Woods”, Forest of Vermont’s Cooler Climate)

                                   (biomes map w/sources due 11.5)

Wk 7:         11.5:         Classroom session: tropical rainforests and savannas

                (geography, ecological limiting factors, vegetation types, plant and animal adaptations)


Field session: Sterling Woods (temperate forest)

                (geography, ecological limiting factors, vegetation types, plant and animal adaptations)


Assignments: (read Colinvaux Biome handout)


Wk 8:        11.12:         Classroom session: grasslands and chaparral

(geography, ecological limiting factors, vegetation types, plant and animal adaptations)

Classroom Session (no field session this week): Deserts and Review

Assignment: (read Colinvaux Biome handout)  

                (Applied Ecology presentation due 11.19)




Wk 9        11.19:         Classroom session: introduction to evolution; species concepts 

                (natural selection, selection pressures, ecological fitness, sources of variety, etc.)


                Field Session: Predator –Prey on the Commons


                Assignments: (read ch13, 14- Colinvaux and “Why Woods”)

                                        (Ecological glossary part 2 due 11.26)

Wk 10:        11.26:         Classroom session: species concepts and speciation (definitions of species,                                 allopatry and sympatry, co-evolution, etc.), diversity of life


Field Session: Ecological Canoe Exploration (The great diversity of life)


Assignments: (read ch 15, 16- Colinvaux)

                                        (Final Questions due 12.3)  


Wk 11:        12.3:        Final Questions Due