Course Description: This course focuses on interactions and interdependencies among organisms in biological communities. Goals of the course are to present important principles of ecology, and to illustrate how biotic and abiotic factors converge to influence distribution and abundance. Course objectives are achieved using lectures, field & laboratory exercises, written laboratory reports, assigned readings, and group discussions. Lectures are designed to provide an understanding of important concepts in ecology, which is reinforced by hands-on field & laboratory experiences. Assigned readings and group discussions promote learning through the synthesis of important concepts and issues.
Field & Laboratory Exercises: Because this is a course about ecosystems, a number of laboratory exercises will be held in the field. That means cadets can expect to get cold, dirty, and/or wet at times - it's part of the beauty of ecology. Being in the field is the only way to get hands-on experience with the ecosystems learned about in class, and it will provide cadets with an appreciation for practical considerations related to field studies. The uniform for field activities will be ACU. Tentative dates for field trips are listed in the laboratory schedule, but they are subject to change as I deem necessary. Laboratory exercises will be conducted in small groups and data collected during these exercises will be analyzed in lab. In addition to in-class work, everyone is required to write and submit laboratory reports individually. The purpose of these reports is to learn scientific writing skills and improve your ability to interpret scientific data. The best way to improve your writing is to write, read, and edit your own statements and thoughts.
There will be 14 laboratory exercises scheduled for this semester. Missing a single laboratory meeting, regardless of the reason, will make it extremely difficult to achieve course goals and is likely to impact your grade. In most cases there will be no way for you to make-up missed exercises. Therefore, I suggest that you do your best to miss as few labs as possible. The exercises I have planned will be fun, but some require special preparation and they are time-sensitive. In particular, to avoid killing the small mammals we will study, we'll need to set and check traps outside of the normal laboratory time. I may decide to use lecture time to check traps and process animals in the field, but also will need volunteers to help set up and collect traps outside of normal meeting times. In addition to trapping small mammals (rodents and insectivores), I will offer a voluntary bat field trip if time and weather permit. The goal of this will be to give you a chance to see some interesting organisms that most people know very little about, as well as show you some techniques used to study them. Details for these events will be discussed in class.
Field Notes: Field notebooks are an integral part of field biology. All good field biologists take detailed notes, and the best biologists do so religiously. Field notes provide a written record of your observations and activities that can be useful to you (e.g., when writing lab reports), other researchers, future scientists and historians. For this reason, the VMI Biology Department will supply each of you with a waterproof notebook that you are expected to use to record notes during all field outings. Notebooks will be submitted for grade near the end of the semester. Grades will be based on whether notes are complete, are adequately detailed, and are in the proper format (to be discussed in class). Notes must be written while in the field (or at the least, at the end of the day), and be based on your personal observations and experiences in the field. Consulting one another while in the field or at the end of the outing to make sure notes are accurate is common practice among field biologists and is acceptable in this class. However, consulting the field notes of your peers afterwards because you didn t complete them when you should have is NOT acceptable. Field notebooks will be returned to you before the end of the semester and you are encouraged to continue keeping field notes after this class has ended (i.e. in other classes or on personal trips).
Laboratory Reports: Cadets are required to submit three laboratory reports over the course of the semester. Reports will be based on data collected in lab, and they are to be written in standard scientific format (with a title page, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, acknowledgments, and literature cited sections, and if appropriate, figures and tables). Additionally, reports must be written as concisely and accurately as humanly possible. Grading will be assessed using a rubric based on 1) whether papers adhere to the scientific format, 2) the quality of writing, and 3) intellectual content. Because good scientific writing is an acquired skill, these reports are likely to be one of the most challenging aspects of the course. Accordingly, reports are worth 30% of the overall grade for the course (combined).