Mark A. Davis

Professor of Biology
Macalester College


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Syllabus AssignmentsUFIs (Useful Flyers of Information for students)

Mark Davis (Mark)                                 Spring 2003
Office: OlinRice 219; 651-696-6102       Macalester College
Office Hours M: 2:00-3:30 p.m.
W: 1:00-2:30 p.m.

General Information

Biology 15-01 (Global Biodiversity and the Biology of Conservation) explores the reasons behind the alarming loss of biodiversity occurring throughout the world today.  The implications of this loss and the efforts underway to reduce the rate of loss will be main topics of the course.  Students will be introduced to the different types of biodiversity, including genetic diversity, species diversity, and habitat diversity.  The underlying ecological processes involved in extinctions will be emphasized, but the role of human values, politics, and economic development in the loss of biodiversity will be examined as well.  Principles will be illustrated through case studies of both extinctions and recovery efforts occurring in different parts of the world.

REQUIREMENTS SATISFIED: This course satisfies the International Diversity Requirement, and fulfills 4 credit hours of the Natural Science Requirement. This course cannot be counted toward a major or core in biology.

LECTURES:  MWF 10:50-11:50

TEXTS: Essentials of Conservation Biology, Primack. 2002.  Plus readings to be assigned.

WRITING, EXAMINATIONS, AND GRADING:  There will be three exams, two during the term and a final.  All exams will be worth 100 points.  Toward the end of the term, students will begin working on a final paper (100 points) focusing on ecological issues that must be addressed when developing a biodiversity reserve.  This paper will involve a revision.  In addition, students will write several memos to one another on topics raised in the course.  Students will be graded on the basis of their performance on exams (65%), the quality of their paper (30%), and their participation in class discussions and memo writing (5%).  Note:  if there is any student in this class who has need for test-taking or note-taking accommodation, please feel free to come and discuss this with me.

Class Schedule

Date, Topic, Reading  (pages in Primack)

January 27 Introduction:  Definitions and Global Patterns of Biodiversity 1-25, 61-83


29 Genes, Natural Selection, and Evolution  39-42

31 Genes, Natural Selection, and Evolution (cont)

February   3 Species and Speciation    27-39

  5 Growth and Regulation of Populations  297-356

  7 DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

10 The Ecology of Communities of Species  42-57

12 Coevolution and Mutual Dependence of Species

14 The Ecology of Ecosystems    57-58

17  Biological Diversity and Islands   174-183

19 DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

21 Biodiversity:  Local and Regional Processes

24 Biology of Rarity and Extinction: Past and Present 159-174, 183-212

26 Rarity and Extinction: Past and Present (cont)

28 EXAM #1


March 3 Land and Biodiversity Use by Resident Peoples

  5 Impact of Development and Climate Change  213-263

  7 Impact of Development and Climate Change (cont)

12 Introduced Species     276-294
10  DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

14  The Role of Values     265-276

           Spring Break

24 Effects of War


26 The Value of Biodiversity    85-155

28 Protected Parks and Reserves    413-498

31 The Role of Zoos, Botanical Gardens, and Gene Banks 377-412
  2 Restoration Ecology     357-376, 525-545

  4 DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

  7 Linking Societies and Conservation   499-524, 549-621

  9 EXAM #2

11 Latin America


14 Africa

16 Russia

18 No Class

21 Video (The Forest Through the Trees)

23 Review of First Drafts of Final Paper

25 DISCUSSION (Memos Due)

28 Asia

30 Antarctica and Marine Environments

May 2 North America

 5 Biodiversity:  Prospects for the Future  623-637

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Point of View Essay Final Paper


It is clear that in order to save some species from extinction, extraordinary steps must be taken. These have included such actions as removing all individuals from the wild and placing them in captivity until the population and habitat have stabilized to permit reintroduction, tagging or radio-collaring all or most individuals living in a surviving population for ongoing monitoring, periodically transporting some individuals between populations in order to prevent inbreeding, managing of the habitat to ensure that food and living space are always available, and eliminating other species from the habitat that threaten the survival of the target species. In many instances, these steps have proved effective in saving species from extinction. However, these measures are usually quite expensive and obviously involve considerable human manipulation of the species and its environment. Are these efforts worth it?

Assignment: Write a 3-400 word editorial that could be published in a local newspaper in which you argue either for or against such extraordinary efforts to preserve biodiversity. In writing your essay, you will need to decide whether you categorically support or oppose such efforts or whether you support such efforts under certain circumstances but not others. Whichever approach you take, you will need to develop a rationale for your point of view. In addition, you should provide one or more examples to support your case.

Evaluation: You will receive feedback from two sources, Professor Davis and a group of your classmates. Each of you will read the editorials of approximately seven of your classmates, evaluating them using a numerical rating system accompanied by comments. The numerical rating system is described below.

5 A first rate editorial; contains a clear thesis statement; the rationale is very well developed; the supportive examples advance the writer's position; the editorial is very well written mechanically; essentially the piece is of publishable quality.

4 Very nice job; most elements of the piece were well done, although one or more could use some improvement. Although not of publishable quality at the moment, this piece could probably be easily revised to become so.

3 Satisfactory piece; the goals of the assignment were basically accomplished, but either most aspects of the editorial need some improvement, or one of the aspects is missing or very poorly done.

2 Effort exceeded results. The author clearly made an effort to do the assignment, but for a variety of reasons, the editorial was not effective, i.e., two or more of the key aspects of the paper are missing or very poorly done.

1 Unsatisfactory. It seems obvious that little thought and effort went into this piece which is inadequate in most aspects.

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The Creation of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Objective: to demonstrate that you understand basic ecological theory and can apply this theory to the practical issue of establishing a biological reserve.

Background: In many cases, nature preserves or national parks have been designed expressly to preserve natural communities. In this case, residents typically are not permitted to live in the protected area and their access to the reserve was either strictly prohibited or severely restricted. During the 1970s, the concept of Biosphere Reserves was developed as an alternative approach. These were to be reserves that incorporated resident peoples and their activities in a sustainable way. The aim was to create reserves that met key conservation roles--maintenance of genetic, species, and ecoystem diversity over time, along with key development goals, including support and establishment of subsistence and economic activities by resident peoples that were consistent with the conservation goals. The ultimate goal was to create Biosphere Reserves in all 193 distinct biogeographic regions on earth. Today, nearly 300 of these reserves have been created.

In the mid 1980s, a presidential decree created a new Biosphere Reserve along the coast in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. The reserve was roughly rectangular, about 40 miles long along the coast and extending about 25 miles inland. This reserve, totalling 528,147 hectares (equivalent to more than 1000 square miles), was created in an effort to preserve the diverse natural communities found in this part of the Yucutan. These included primary tropical forests, secondary growth forests, shrubland and dune areas, freshwater lagoons and sinkholes, coral reefs, and marine bays lined with mangroves. The name of the reserve is Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. The word Sian Ka'an is derived from the Mayan language and means "where the sky is born". At the time of the decree, about 800 residents, many of them Mayan, lived in the area designated to be the reserve. The vast majority of the residents lived in the coastal areas where fishing and lobster harvesting were major sources of food and income.

The presidential decree was just the first step in the creation of a reserve that actually fulfilled the stated goals of Biosphere Reserves. The hard work involved the design and implementation of the reserve.

The Assignment: Although it is true that each biosphere reserve is unique, it is also true that there exist some common issues that need to be addressed in all reserves. These include issues involving genetics, plant and animal populations, natural communities and ecosystems and the impact of human activities on these systems. Your assignment is to imagine that you are a conservation biologist who has been hired by the government of Mexico as a consultant to advise the planning of this reserve. Specifically, you have been asked to produce a document that identifies six key ecological concerns that must be satisfactorily addressed if the reserve is to meet its conservation and development goals. In addition, you need to suggest ways that these concerns might be met during the design and implementation of the reserve.

Your document should consist of a brief introductory paragraph followed by the identification of the six ecological concerns that you believe are most pressing. Each concern should be followed by a rationale, in which you explain the nature and implications of the concern, and some advice as to how to proceed with the design and implementation of the preserve so as to best meet the concern.

Length: approximately 2000 words

Due Date: Last day of class.

Evaluation: Your document will be evaluated on how well you were able to apply a variety of ecological ideas and theories from the course (e.g., ideas related to genetics, dynamics of population growth and decline, interactions in biological communities, and flows of nutrients in ecosystems) to the specific task of trying to integrate biological protection with the maintenance of a local human population and economy. The degree to which your analysis and recommendations reflect an understanding of basic ecological theory and practical issues of conservation biology will be the primary basis for the evaluation.

Sources of Information: This is not a research paper. Your information and perspective should come from the lectures, text book, outside readings, videos, memos and class discussions. You do not need to provide a bibliography for this paper. This is not an exam! While each student needs to write up their own paper, feel free to talk over ideas with other members of the class.


EXAMPLE: Ecological Concern #X: Preventing the pollution and eutrophication of fresh water systems. It is very important to prevent the pollution and eutrophication of fresh water ecosystems because...... Pollution and eutrophication could occur if ....... Pollution and eutrophication can be prevented by ......

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