BIO 352 Ecology Lab Fall semester

Instructor: James Thomson, Ecology and Evolution Dept., 632-8600,

To register: BIO 352 requires consent of instructor because it is an unusual course, and you should know something about it before committing yourself. To register, read this document. Then pick up a hard copy at the Ecology and Evolution office, 650 Life Sciences, fill it out, sign it at the bottom, and exchange it for a signed add/drop form. Alternatively, answer the questions by e-mail, then come by and pick up the form.

Course objectives: This is a course in scientific procedure in ecology. You will be exposed to a wide variety of approaches to ecological questions. You should gain an appreciation of the necessity of a broad biological and natural history background in framing sensible and interesting hypotheses. You will learn some of the basic methods of collecting and analyzing quantitative data. I stress the deep understanding of a few statistical tests rather than a cookbook knowledge of many. In addition to data collection and analysis, you will use mechanical and computer simulations to gain insight into theoretical models. You will learn the natural history and ecology of selected local organisms and communities. You will learn some elements of computing-not programming, but the use of existing program packages.

Exams, grading: Your grade is based on many takehome assignments, a few quizzes, two formal papers, oral lab-group reports, a final exam, and a small subjective component based on your participation in class discussions and group projects. All exams and quizzes are open-book, open-notes. A sample final exam is in the course pack. Students mostly earn grades in the A-C range, but sad experience shows that it is possible to fail this course, even if you are a "senior who needs it to graduate." We grade performance, not needs. You will have plenty of early warning if you are doing poorly.

Preparation: We recognize a distinction between service courses and advanced electives. BIO 352 is one of the latter. It is designed for a specific clientele: students who are interested in the subject of ecology and who have trained themselves with the proper prerequisites. In this case, one prerequisite (or co-requisite) is BIO 351, which is a high-level lecture course in the principles of ecology. These principles underlie every investigation that we undertake in the lab course, but they are not part of the subject matter of the lab. There is no time to cover this material for those who lack it; that's why we have prerequisites, of course. Taking the lab without the lecture is a very bad idea; you will often be "lost" without even knowing it. You won't understand why we are doing what we're doing; therefore, you won't see its value.

The same goes for the math prerequisites. You should have had a course in calculus and one in statistics. More to the point, you should have learned something in those courses. This course reflects the state of modern ecology in that it is principally concerned with data collection and analysis. We are testing hypotheses about ecological phenomena, but that requires the use of statistical thinking. Because ecological situations are seldom amenable to the kinds of controlled experiments that can be done in the lab, ecology is more dependent on statistical sophistication than any other branch of biology. Despite a popular perception to the contrary, you cannot be an ecologist if you have a fundamental aversion to mathematics--nor can you have a good time in this course. This is not to say that the course is all math--it is not. But a statistical attitude pervades it. On exams, you will be asked to collect and/or organize data, to formulate appropriate hypotheses based on your knowledge of ecological principles, and to select and carry out correct statistical tests of your hypotheses. There are also numerous written assignments, so you need a good command of technical writing in standard English. Your spoken English and your classroom skills also must be good enough for you to absorb large amounts of lecture material. If you're math-phobic or shaky in English, you should find another course!

Self-discipline, study skills, and workload. Although this is a lab course, there is typically at least an hour of lecture each week. As there is no textbook, you must attend every class. The exercises are not usually contained within single periods; rather, we treat several continuing themes each time. Missing a single class can ruin your understanding of several continuing exercises. To underscore the importance of both attendance and attention in lab, we will regularly take attendance and we will at least once ask you to turn in your class notes so that we can critique your note-taking skills and give suggestions for improvement. If serious illness compels you to miss a class, you must get your assignments turned in anyway, by e-mail or regular mail if a friend can't deliver them for you. Because we often discuss the "answers" to take home assignments in the day they are due, we do not accept late papers for credit (although we will read them and give you comments if you request). Also be aware that this is a 3-credit course, and thus is considerably more work than a standard 2-credit lab. You will have at least one take-home assignment every week. You will often have several simultaneous projects going, with different due dates that you must keep track of. Flakiness and procrastination will be fatal.

Working in groups. A few of our exercises require you to work with other students for a common grade. If you find this highly objectionable, avoid this course.

Health and squeamishness warnings. Our field work will take us to places where poison ivy is abundant, Lyme disease is a hazard, and Hanta virus is a very, very remote possibility. We suggest the use of repellents for Lyme disease, and will instruct you in other safety precautions. You will also be asked to catch and kill insects, including bees. If you suffer from bee-sting allergy or if you are morally opposed to taking invertebrate specimens, notify the course staff immediately. Field work may get you and your clothes very dirty on occasion. If your fingernails represent a major investment, take another course!

Disabilities. If you have a physical, psychological, medical or learning disability that may affect your ability to carry out assigned course work, I would urge that you contact the staff in the Disabled Student Services office (DSS), room 133 Humanities, 632-6748/TDD. DSS will review your concerns with you and determine what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. All information and documentation of disability is confidential.

Cost. In lieu of a textbook, we use a photocopied course pack and many handouts. The cost will depend on whether we produce it ourselves or use BASIX. You may also need to pay about $15 for course supplies (depending on the exercises we choose) and for costs of travel on some field trips (depending on whether ferries are involved).

The good news. Although this sounds grim so far, students who are interested in ecology and who have a suitable background usually like this course--many of them find it among their most enjoyable courses at Stony Brook. Needless to say, having a number of such students in a class makes it much more rewarding for the staff. We realize that not everyone is going to fall into this category, and it's not our intention to punish you just because the course doesn't "click" for you. But remember that the students who do enjoy what's going on are going to be tough for you to compete with if you're here against your will.

With all this in mind, I am asking you to indicate by your signature that you have read and absorbed these comments and that you feel that you have both the background and the motivation to do well. If these admonitions have scared you off, thanks for making a place for someone else, and good luck with your alternative plans.

1. Are you taking BIO 351 concurrently with 352? If not, what ecology course have you taken and passed? When? At what institution? Who was the instructor, and what text did you use? Do you still have your text?

2. Please answer the same questions for your math and statistics background.

3. If you don't have the prerequisites for the course, briefly explain what you will be doing this semester to remedy your deficiency.

4. Explain any special reasons why you want or need to have this course.

Name (print) _______________________ ID#:_____________Signed ____________________________