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Course location
Lecture – SQU 118: M 11–11:50 am
Labs – SQU 118: MW 1–3:50 pm

Keddy, P. A.  2017. Plant Ecology: Origins, Processes, Consequences. 2nd Ed. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.
Additional readings posted on the course website.

Course description
Advanced Plant Ecology is designed for graduate students and advanced standing undergraduates.  The course explores the major concepts, principles, research and methods of plant ecology, with emphasis on the classic and contemporary literature.  The focus is on the major factors that affect the distribution, abundance and diversity of plants, including light, water, nutrients, species interactions, disturbance, exotic species and climate change.  Research on select environmental issues will also be explored.

My aim is to help you develop the skill and ability to construct your own learning, which is an important and necessary part of your intellectual growth as a scientist.  Therefore, course content will be covered through readings, discussion, critical evaluation of the literature, project work, and field research.  As a graduate course, I expect you to play an important part in your learning.  What this means is that although I will introduce key topics in lecture, the majority of our time will be spent engaging in active discussion of scientific literature, field experiences and research.  All of that said, I am flexible about the material covered and hope to fit student interests; so I look forward to hearing from you!

In the lecture part of the course, I will present the key concepts and principles for the week.  During the lab, we will discuss the original research and theory behind those concepts and methods and then apply them.  Although much of the course is devoted to reading, discussion, and evaluation of the scientific literature, a significant portion will be inquiry- and field-based.  Therefore, we will engage in several field research projects as a key component of the course.  Likewise, because a firm understanding of plant ecology requires a certain degree of experience with different plants, communities, and habitats, we will also take a number of field trips to different plant communities during the course.

Learning objectives

When you have completed this course, you should be able to: 1) Explain the key processes that influence the distribution, abundance and diversity of plant species using relevant examples of plants, populations, and/or communities; 2) Describe interactions between plant species and the environment that determine plant community composition and structure; 3) Explain how models and analytical techniques can be used to examine and explain population and community structure and dynamics; 4) Describe and critically evaluate the classic and contemporary primary literature in plant ecology; 5) Understand and apply appropriate methods in plant ecology to test relevant hypotheses; 6) Apply ecological principles to current issues in plant ecology; and 7) Collect, analyze and interpret plant ecological data, and present the results in written and oral forms.

Assessments include class discussions, a critique of a scientific paper, a topic seminar, a group research project, a written report, an oral presentation, and required field trips (including at least one weekend field trip and one overnight field trip).  Your grade is also based on participation, which includes attendance, class discussions, your contribution to learning, and cooperation in the lecture, lab and field.  The following is a summary of assessment points and weightings.

Assessment Points possible Percent (%)
Critiques (2) 100 20
Seminar 100 20
Discussion 50 10
Reports 50 10
Presentations 50 10
Field trips 100 20
Participation 50 10
Total 500  

Your final grade is based on your cumulative point total.  Grading percentages will be as follows:

Percentage (%) Grade Percentage (%) Grade
≥ 93 A 73 – 76.9 C
90 – 92.9 A- 70 – 72.9 C-
87 – 89.9 B+ 67 – 69.9 D+
83 – 86.9 B 63 – 66.9 D
80 – 82.9 B- 60 – 62.9 D-
77 – 79.9 C+ ≤ 59.9 F

Each of you will write a critique of two assigned primary literature papers on a topic in plant ecology.  The purpose of the critique is to help you familiarize yourself with the published literature in plant ecology and to think critically and deeply about the questions asked, methods used, results acquired, and conclusions made.  The critiques are also intended to give you practice writing in a scientifically critical and insightful manner.  Be warned, the critiques are not book reports, summaries, simple reviews or outlines; they are a serious intellectual endeavor that will require you to conduct a thoughtful, thorough and scientifically critical assessment of a published paper at an advanced level.

Seminars and Discussion
Each of you will present one seminar on an advanced topic in plant ecology and lead one class discussion of a primary literature paper (different from the Critique).  For the discussion, the lead must develop a set of questions and/or objectives for discussion based on the paper being presented; these I will distribute to the class in advance.  The participants must also develop a set of questions for the lead; these I will compile and present to the lead at the discussion.  On the day of the discussion, the presenter should give a brief synopsis of the paper and lead the class in a discussion of the paper based on the questions/objectives.  It is expected that each person contributes meaningfully to the discussion.  The lead must also respond to the questions submitted by the class.  More details later.

The seminar must be 30 minutes on an advance topic in the field of plant ecology.  The topic must be one that extends and deepens understanding of one of the topics covered in the course or a new one that you would like to learn more about and think the class would benefit from.  These seminars will allow us to explore additional topics of interest to the class.  For the seminar, you should also assign a primary literature article for the class to read and lead a discussion of the paper following your seminar.  More details later.

Research projects
During the semester, we will conduct several field research projects at field sites located off campus.  These will be conducted as a class, or in teams of two.  Class research projects will take place during lab time and be guided by me.  Team projects will be designed and conducted by your team and take place either during or outside of lab time.  Projects will be exploratory or aimed at testing a particular hypothesis.  Some projects will require presentation of the results in either oral or written form.  More details later.

Field Trips
We will take a number of field trips during the course.  Each trip is a required part of the course.  The purpose of the field trips will be two-fold.  First, they will give us an opportunity to see first-hand examples of concepts you are learning in the course.  Second, they will provide us with field sites at which we will conduct a set of field research projects.  At least one of the field trips will take place on a weekend day and one will be an overnight trip.  Check the class schedule for dates and make any necessary arrangements now to attend.

Everyone is expected to participate equally in the lab and field research projects.  Part of your individual grade will be based upon attendance in class and on field trips, your contribution to the learning in class, and how effectively you participate in the lab and research activities.

Missed exams and late assignments
I will deal with these circumstances individually.  However, I expect that each of you will act responsibly and notify me in advance if you foresee missing class, an exam or turning in late assignments.

Class behavior and academic honesty
I expect that all students in my class will exhibit appropriate and respectful behavior in the classroom and adhere to the university’s policy on academic honesty.  Cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated and will be severely punished.  University policy on academic honesty clearly defines what constitutes cheating and plagiarism.

The university defines plagiarism as: “the use of distinctive ideas or works belonging to another person without providing adequate acknowledgement of that person’s contribution.”  The university further states that “Regardless of the means of appropriation, incorporating another’s work into one’s own requires adequate identification and acknowledgement.”  I strongly encourage you to read the university’s complete policy on academic honesty, a link to which is available on the course website. Whether acknowledged or not, or whether a group project or not, it is never appropriate to turn in another student’s work as your own.


Persons with disabilities
I am sensitive to students with disabilities.  Any student having a visible or invisible disability that adversely affects their ability to learn, take the tests, and succeed in my class should speak with me prior to the second week of class.  This will allow me enough time to make reasonable accommodations in advance of exams and quizzes.

A note on cell phones, texting, etc.
E-mailing, texting, social networking, playing games, or similar on a computer, smart phone or other mobile device during class will not be tolerated.  A phone that rings or vibrates during class is disruptive to me and to other students.  So please turn your phone off before coming in to class.

If, for necessary personal reasons, you must leave your phone on and take a call or respond to a text during class, please silence your phone and step out of class to take the call or reply to the text.  I will not be offended if you leave for this reason, and you don’t need to ask.

No cell phones will be allowed during quizzes and exams; if you need to conduct calculations during an exam or quiz, you must bring a separate calculator.  Computers, tablets and smart phones will be allowed during class for course-related work only.  If you wish to use a voice-recording device to capture my lectures, you are welcome to do so.