Syllabus – Bio 160 (Fall 2019)

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Course location
Lecture – Mariposa Hall 1001: M/W 8–8:50 am
Labs – SQU 328: M 9–11:50 am, 1:00–3:50 pm; W 9–11:50 am

Course description
General Ecology is an upper division core course that provides students with an understanding of the fundamental processes that influence the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the role of organisms in the flux of energy and cycling of matter.  Because humans affect virtually all ecological systems, this course highlights human interactions with the environment as a context for understanding larger ecological principles.  In addition to focusing on the subject of ecology, this course will emphasize scientific thinking and problem solving.  An understanding of ecology will make you better biologists (no matter what area you study) and informed citizens.

BIO 1 and BIO 2 or BIO 1 and BIO 10; BIO 100 or ENVS 120.  BIO 100 or ENVS 120 may be taken concurrently.  If you enrolled but do not have these prerequisites, you will be dropped from the course.  Why the prerequisites?  General Ecology builds on content contained in introductory biology, statistics and analytical/quantitative methods.  Therefore, I assume that you know, understand and can apply the fundamental concepts in these courses.

Course materials

Textbook Relyea, R. and R. Ricklefs. 2018. Ecology: The Economy of Nature. 8th Edition. W. H. Freeman and Co., New York, NY.
Recommended McMillan, V E. 2011 or 2017.  Writing papers in the biological sciences. 5th or 6th Ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston, MA.
Other items a calculator, USB key (thumb drive)

My approach and expectations
I use an active and inquiry-based approach to learning that will require you to: 1) understand the material, not just memorize it; 2) solve problems you may not have studied before; and 3) synthesize information from a larger body of knowledge.  By “active” and “inquiry-based”, I mean that we will spend much of our time working together to ask questions, solve problems, apply our understanding to new situations, and engage in scientific research.  In other words, we will engage our minds and immerse ourselves in ecology.  Moreover, we will cover a lot of material in this course and integrate across a wide range of scales and levels of organization.  As such, you should expect to spend substantial time preparing and studying outside of class.

For some students, this course will be difficult because they have never been expected to work and learn in this way before.  Therefore, you should prepare to learn new ways of studying that will help you achieve the learning that is expected from you in this course.  To help you learn the science of ecology and to develop the necessary cognitive skills, I provide a variety of in- and out-of-class learning experiences.

I expect students to arrive at all lectures and labs on time.  Assigned readings, worksheets and pre-labs must be completed prior to class.  You are expected to come to class prepared to ask questions and discuss topics when called upon.

Learning goals
When you have successfully completed this course, you will: 1) know and understand important facts, concepts and principles concerning the major ecological patterns and processes found in nature; 2) be able to apply these facts, concepts and principles to new situations; 3) be able to analyze ecological literature, phenomena or problems, synthesize new hypotheses to explain observations and experimental data, and critically evaluate the relative merits of competing hypotheses or explanations for these phenomena; 4) develop skill and self-confidence designing and conducting appropriate ecological experiments and presenting the results to others through written and oral means; 5) have considered personal points of view and attitudes regarding the role of ecological science in evaluating environmental concerns; and 6) be able to work effectively and cooperatively with others to achieve common goals.

Assessment and grading
A single letter grade will be given at the end of the semester based on your overall point total for the assessments listed below.  All assessments must be completed.

Lecture (240 pts)
Exams (3 @ 50 pts) 150 30
Quizzes 40 8
Activities 30 6
Participation 20 4
Lab (260 pts)
Research projects 100 20
Assignments 80 16
Presentation 50 10
Participation 30 6
Total 500 100

I do not grade on a curve and I do not give extra credit.  Final grades will be assigned based on the cumulative point totals for all assessments 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

Learning teams
Some of our learning in lecture and lab will occur in groups.  You will form groups during the first couple weeks of the course and work with your group members to take lecture quizzes, complete selected lecture and lab assignments, and conduct several research studies (see below).

To help you prepare for the material presented in lecture and for exams, I have created a set of optional but strongly recommended worksheets. Each worksheet contains a set of questions and problems pertaining to their corresponding lecture.  They are intended to serve as a study guide for the material that will be covered in each lecture and as a learning tool to reinforce your understanding of key concepts from the readings and lecture. Answers to worksheet questions will be posted on the course website after the corresponding lecture. Note: I will draw exam questions from the worksheets; so although they are not required and will not be graded, completing the worksheets will help you prepare for the lecture exams. 

Three multiple-choice exams will be given in the lecture.  Lecture exams will contain 50 questions and be worth 50 points each.  Exams will cover material presented in both lecture and lab.  Although exams will draw primarily from material presented in the lecture, they will also cover material presented in the textbook, worksheets, and lab.  Exams are designed to not only assess your command of the facts but also test your ability to problem-solve, analyze and interpret data, synthesize information, and evaluate ecological phenomena – skills you will practice and reinforce in lecture and lab.  To help you prepare for the exams, I recommend that you use a combination of written lecture notes, the lecture slides, keys to the worksheets, and relevant course material posted online as additional study resources.  I cannot stress enough the importance of taking handwritten notes; it has been shown that retention of information is increased when notes are handwritten.

Online quizzes
Four lecture quizzes will be given.  Lecture quizzes will be administered online through Canvas.  The quizzes will consist of ten multiple-choice questions and be worth 10 points each, for a total of 40 points.

The lab
Because the lab is where you will actually do ecology, I consider lab to be a key element of this course.  Hence, the lab comprises just over 50% of the course grade.  This is appropriate both in terms of the time and effort you will devote to the lab and the value of the lab experience in meeting the course learning objectives.  Successful completion of the lab is essential to doing well in the course.  The lab is your chance to learn the “tools of the trade” and get hands-on field experience.  I have structured the lab to incorporate research as a way of learning about the science of ecology rather than it being a cookbook type of experience.  The lab has three main purposes: 1) To reinforce and complement what you are learning in the lecture; 2) To develop an understanding of the methods of ecology (and science in general) and how ecologists do ecology; and 3) To improve your scientific thinking, analytical, and scientific communication skills.

Your experience in lab will involve engagement in various lab activities/exercises, ecological field research, evaluating ecological literature, and reporting scientific results. The lab will include two guided research studies.  I will guide you in the first study, whereas you will be more independent in the second.  For the first study you will turn in a written report.  For the second you will turn in a written report and give an oral presentation.

Although you will conduct the research studies as a group, each student must turn in their own individual and original written report.  All group members are responsible for contributing equally to the success of the research studies.  Course points for this group effort will take into consideration individual contributions to the groups through a peer evaluation process.  The research studies and their assessment will be covered in the lab.

In addition to labs devoted to field research, you will carry out several lab activities/assignments during the course.  These will be described in lab, and write-ups and assignments for these posted on the course website.

All lab reports and lab assignments must be completed and turned in as a hard copy.  I will not accept electronic copies of reports or assignments.  Assignments must be turned in on the assignment sheet provided.  Assignments completed and turned in on scratch or notebook paper will not be graded and receive zero points.

Computers and software
Computers are available in the lab and will be used for many lab exercises and the field research project.  The computers are loaded with Microsoft Office, statistical software (SPSS) and Internet access.  We will conduct data manipulations and analyses using Microsoft Excel and SPSS.  If you do not have Microsoft Excel, you may acquire a free compatible spreadsheet program online through OpenOffice (  To statistically test hypotheses on more complex experimental designs, you will use SPSS (a statistical software package), which is available free to students through Sac State’s IRT website.  If you own a laptop with wireless and you have the supporting software, I encourage you to use it in the lab.  This will cut down crowding around a limited number of computers available in the lab.

A key portion of your grade in this course will depend on your participation.  Allocation of these points is at my discretion and based on attendance, punctuality, on-time submission of assignments, cleanliness in lab, and your positive contribution to learning.  These points are intended to encourage participation and engagement in both the lecture and the lab.

Many of you do this automatically, so keep up the good work!  However, I’ve noticed over the years that a small number of students chronically arrive to class late, miss class altogether, leave lab early (without notification to the instructor), do not participate in class discussions, do not come to class prepared, and do not clean up after themselves.  Unfortunately, these behaviors are disruptive and disrespectful to the class, to your lab mates and to me!

Consequently, I take note of these events and consider them in my determination of your participation score.  This is especially important in the lab, where many of the exercises depend on the presence of all members of the learning team. Two (2) percentage points will be taken off for each late arrival (>5 minutes) after the first one; additional percentage points – at my discretion – will be taken off for lack of preparation, participation and clean up.

Make-ups and late assignments
Every now and then things come up.  I understand.  If you know ahead of time that you will miss lecture or a lab due to illness or unavoidable conflict, you must notify me in advance and make alternative arrangements to complete the work.  Otherwise, you will not be allowed to make up the missed work or exam.

If you are unable to notify me beforehand due to an unexpected emergency, you must provide me with documentation of the emergency or illness (e.g., a physician’s or supervisor’s note, death certificate, or similar).  In such cases, a missed exam, lab quiz, or lab assignment may be made up at a later time in consultation with the instructor.  Missed labs must be made up during another lab period in the same week and cannot be made up with a different instructor.

Make-up exams must be taken in the Testing Center (in Lassen Hall) during the same week of the date of the corresponding exam.  To take a make-up exam in the Testing Center, you must go to the Testing Center and schedule an appointment with them for your exam; you must also pick up and complete the necessary form, and then submit that form to me in advance.

Due to the in-class group nature of lecture quizzes and group work, these points cannot be made up under any circumstances.  So please do not ask.

At my discretion, late assignments and reports may be accepted but graded down 10% of the full point value per school day late.  Because the research report is due at the final exam (the official end of the course), it will be graded down 10% if turned in after the official published exam period and 10% per school day late after that; the research paper will not be accepted after five days late.

Class behavior and academic honesty
I expect that all students in my class will exhibit appropriate and respectful behavior to their fellow students and to me in the classroom.  I also expect you to adhere to the university’s policy on academic honesty.

In particular, cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated and will be severely punished.  If you are unsure, 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, which is provided here.  Whether acknowledged or not, or whether a group project or not, it is never appropriate to copy and turn in another student’s work as your own – even if you acknowledge them as the source.

For example, if you cut and paste or copy written material from a fellow student and turn it in as your own, it’s plagiarism.

In addition, copying material from the Internet and including it in an assignment as your own original work is also considered plagiarism.  Yes it’s common.  And it’s easy to do.  But it’s wrong and it’s easy to catch.  Often a simple Google search or use of one of the many software programs created to identify plagiarism will identify material copied from sources gathered from the Internet.  So, don’t risk it; write your papers and assignments in YOUR OWN WORDS.

If, after reviewing the university’s policy, you are still unsure about what is and what is not plagiarism, please ask!


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 is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.  Likewise, a phone that audibly 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.  If you know in advance that you may need to take a call during class, then please sit near the door so you don’t disrupt class.

Any student observed texting, surfing the web, or playing computer games during class without being asked to do so will be asked to move to the back of the room.  If the behavior persists, the student will be dismissed from the classroom.

No cell phones will be allowed during exams and quizzes; if you need to conduct calculations during an exam or quiz, you must bring a separate dedicated 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 as long as it is for your own personal study purposes only.