Concentration Adviser:  Holly Ewing

Overview and Learning Process

As the impact of human activities is being measured in more places and ways around the globe, it is our impact on ecological systems that often raises the greatest public awareness.  Despite considerable media attention to changes in ecosystems occurring worldwide, relatively few individuals understand the myriad mechanisms through which we impact biological systems.  In this concentration, students learn not only about the structure and function of ecological systems but also the feedbacks among the physical, chemical, geological, and biological dimensions of the world.

The courses in this concentration are designed to give students a grounding in courses essential to understanding the structure and function of ecological systems and to help students develop skills in scientific reading, analysis, inference, and communication.  Introductory chemistry courses teach the structure and reactivity of basic substances and the ways in which these properties influence the fate and impact of environmental pollutants.  The first-tier biology and ecology courses introduce students the basic structure of biological systems and the statistical modes of analysis used to draw conclusions.  Intermediate-level courses continue the education in the structure of biological systems, but more courses incorporate emphasis on the abiotic (non-living) realm of ecosystems.  Students must take at least one advanced (i.e., 300- or 400-level) course with a lab, as these courses require a significant independent investigation on the part of individuals or groups of students.  Field studies are prominent in courses at the 200-level and higher, as experience in the field is seen as an essential component of understanding ecological systems and methods for studying them.  Many courses in this concentration are designed to facilitate student learning on the process of collaborative scientific investigation and the synthesis of disparate measures.  All courses emphasize the structure of scientific studies and the ways in which evidence is used to draw conclusions.  Skills in reading and interpreting primary scientific literature are developed in stages through gradually increasing expectations about comprehension and synthesis as course levels increase.  Likewise, writing assignments in formal scientific style are made throughout the curriculum preparing the student to write a senior thesis that relies heavily on review and discussion of relevant primary and secondary scientific studies.  The thesis is a significant piece of independent scholarship that draws together detailed knowledge of the structure and function of an ecological system with perspectives on the methodological approaches and results that are relevant from other scholarly works.  The broader field of ecological literature provides the scientific framework into which the student places the thesis even while recognizing the intersection of the scientific perspective with the cultural and social perspectives learned in the core environmental studies courses.

Courses that count for the fourth course (200- or 300-level) in the core

  • ES/RU 216 Nature in Russian Culture
  • ENVR 227 Catastrophe and Hope
  • EN/ES 237 Books That Changed the World
  • AN/ES 242 Environment, Human Rights, and Indigenous Peoples
  • ENVR 272 Oikos: Rethinking Economy and Ecology
  • ENVR 301 Politics of Nature
  • ENVR 334 The Question of the Animal
  • AN/ES 337 Social Movements, NGOs, and the Environment
  • ENVR 340 Literatures of Agriculture
  • ENVR 348 Nature and the Novel
  • ENVR 350 Environmental Justice in the Americas
  • ECON 222 Environmental Economics

Concentration Requirements

  1. CH/ES 107B Chemical Structure and Its Importance in the Environment
  2. CH/ES 108B Chemical Reactivity in Environmental Systems
  3. BIO 190  Organismal Biology
  4. BIO 270 Ecology
  5. And 6. Two intermediate-level courses in ecology or one intermediate-level course in ecology and one methods course (M) relevant to ecology.  Students may substitute one approved course from study abroad here.  Students may also take one course from this list and two from the list in #7 if desired.
  • BIO 209 Global Change in Marine Systems
  • BI/ES 232 Global Change in Terrestrial Systems
  • BIO 244 Biostatistics (M)
  • BIO 260 Environmental Toxicology
  • BIO 265 Invasive Plant Ecology
  • BI/ES 271 Dendrology and the Natural History of Trees
  • BIO 342 Ecological and Evolutionary Physiology

7.  One advanced ecology course with a lab

Details about thesis and course sequencing (plus some advice with respect to graduate school)

Students in this concentration may pursue either a one- or two-semester thesis.  Participation in any thesis meetings that occur is mandatory for the semester(s) in which a student is taking thesis credits.  Students doing a two-semester thesis advised by a member of the Biology Department may have additional requirements and should check with their advisor about these.

Because many of the courses for this concentration are taught only in the winter semester, it is important that students potentially interested in the Ecology Concentration begin as many of the introductory science courses (i.e., CHEM 107B, CHEM 108B, BIO 101, and ENVR 203) as possible in their first year.  Early completion of these courses limits the number of lab courses that might need to be taken in any one semester, ensures that students will have required courses completed in a time frame relevant to completing a thesis.  Early completion also allows the greatest amount of choice with respect to study abroad.  Students with an AP Biology score of 5 may be able to skip BIO 190 with permission of the instructor.  If this option is exercised, such students will take one additional course from among those in the lists for requirements 5, 6, and 7 (above) to develop further their skills in college-level biological science.  All students are strongly encouraged to take Biostatistics (BIO 244) or a statistics course offered by another department.  Students wishing to pursue graduate work in environmental science are further encouraged to take physics and calculus in addition to the course in statistics.  Students interested in graduate work specifically within ecology should consider taking additional courses in biology and organic chemistry in addition to those in calculus, statistics, and physics.