Ecology (Integrative Biology and Plant Biology 355)

Ecology 2019 Syllabus. In Spring 2020 Ecology will be taught by Dr. Nick Haddad. Dr. Lindell will teach it again in Spring 2021.



Integrative Biology 355

Spring 2019

Lecture: T & Th 10:20-11:40 pm

Location: 128 Natural Science Building

3 credits

Instructor. Dr. Catherine Lindell, Associate Professor, Integrative Biology/Center for Global Change and Earth Observations

Instructor contact info and office hours. Dr. Lindell--301 Natural Science, 884-1241, 353-9874, Office hours are Thursdays 11:40-1:40 p.m. I am happy to make an appointment to talk with you if you are not available after lecture. If you have questions that require short answers, feel free to use email. However, if you have a detailed question, please talk with me, either in person or on the phone. 

Teaching assistant. Connie Rojas, Connie, a Ph.D. candidate in Integrative Biology, will hold office hours Wednesdays, 10 am-noon, or by appointment; 321 Nat. Sci.

D2L. We will be using the d2l system ( to make course materials available to you. After logging into your d2l account (using your MSU credentials), the first page you should see links to the courses you are taking this semester. After selecting Ecology, you will be presented with several tabs at the top of the page relating only to this course. The Content tab is where all of your reading/class materials will be. After clicking "Content", the Table of Contents on the left side of the page will have your readings and assignments broken up into "modules". Please contact Connie if you struggle with the use of d2l and she can help you.

Lecture outlines. We will try to put lecture slides on d2l within a day’s time of when the lecture was presented. We can’t promise this will always happen but it should most of the time. Please do not skip class because the lecture outlines are on the site. The outlines include major points but not all the details we go over in lecture. 

Required texts. We will be using an online platform called SimUText, as the required course text. You will use the modules both for homework assignments and for two laboratory exercises during class. Please see instructions below (from the company SimBio) for purchasing and gaining access to the platform. Cost is $52.

It is important that you review the information below before you subscribe to the SimUText for Ecology (IBIO 355) at Michigan State University. To avoid possible problems, do not wait until the last minute.

Should you encounter problems, you may need your course-specific Access Key. It is: UB7u-BBv3-EyMt-XSAX-Gbxy

Problems or questions? Visit SimUText Support (

The SimUText System has a routine maintenance window Thursdays from 9:00pm – 12:00am mountain time. During this window the SimUText System may be unavailable. However, you can work on assignments in offline mode if the necessary modules are downloaded ahead of time. After maintenance is complete and the system is online, you will need to log into SimUText to submit your answers.

Course description. Ecology is the study of the distribution and abundance of organisms. We will study the relationships of living organisms with each other and the abiotic environment. We will cover principles of individual, population, community, and ecosystem ecology. We will also consider global change and other anthropogenic stressors as influences on the distribution and abundance of organisms.

Prerequisites: Biological Science 162 or 182H or Lyman Briggs 144

Big ideas of the course:

1. All populations have the potential for exponential growth but rarely is exponential growth realized.

2. Species are not distributed randomly. A species’ range and habitat use are determined by its interactions with both abiotic and biotic components of the environment.

3. All species interact with other species.

4. Numerous species coexist in ecological communities, but some communities are more diverse than others.

5. The flow of energy through ecosystems determines the abundance of organisms and the trophic complexity of communities.

6. Nutrients cycle between abiotic and biotic compartments in the environment.

7. The physical environment varies in ways that influence the adaptations of individuals, the abundance of populations, and the composition of communities.

Course objectives

Upon completion of the course students should be able to:

1.   define ecology and distinguish it from concepts like environmental advocacy;

2.   distinguish between populations, communities, and ecosystems;

3.     identify several models of population growth and constraints on population growth;

4.   identify several key components of a strong ecological research investigation;

5.   describe some of the factors that influence species’ ranges and several specific examples of species with very restricted and very large ranges;

6.   identify key concepts of island biogeography theory;

7.   explain two challenges in quantifying the species richness of any given area;

8.   describe the common pattern of species richness across latitudes and identify several of the major drivers of this pattern;

9.   describe a number of important interspecific interactions in temperate ecosystems;

10. identify ten common bird species found in East Lansing;

11. describe what a model is, particularly in the context of ecology, and several of the forms models can take;

12. provide examples of how climate change has influenced species abundances, distributions, and phenologies;

13. explain how ecosystems ecology differs from community or population ecology;

14. explain distinct characteristics of urban and agricultural ecosystems and general patterns of species richness and abundance in these systems.

Computation of grades

Quizzes (4) - 20 points each


Labs (experimental design and Isle Royale)— 20 points each


Data submitted to eBird (3) – 25 points each


Questions from Simbio chapter readings


Evaluation from your group members


Final exam





Grading scale

90% and up 4.0







Quizzes and final exam. The quizzes and final exam will primarily have short-answer questions. They will cover material presented in lecture and material from the Simbio readings. The final exam will include material from the entire course. Your grade will be assigned based on your point total for the whole course and the distribution of grades of the whole class.

Make-up for quizzes or final exam. There are generally no make-ups. The only situations in which make-ups are possible are in the case of medical necessity (e.g. you are very ill) or other emergency (e.g. death in the family). In both of these instances you must present Dr. Lindell with hard-copy documentation of the issue (e.g. a doctor’s note), in advance if possible. Any make-ups must be completed within one week of the originally scheduled quiz or exam unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Assignment due dates are marked in the syllabus.  You will receive no credit for assignments turned in after the deadline. Detailed instructions for each assignment are on d2l.

Special circumstances. If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability, if you have emergency medical information to share with us, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment with Dr. Lindell within the first week of the course. 

Commitment to inclusion and nondiscrimination. We are committed to maintaining an inclusive and nondiscriminatory course. If you have suggestions along these lines, please feel free to communicate with Dr. Lindell.

Religious holidays. If there is a conflict between your observance of a religious holiday and a class requirement, please let Dr. Lindell know at least one week ahead of time.

Academic integrity policy. Please see the following website for MSU regulations, ordinances, and policies regarding academic honesty and integrity: If we discover that any work you produce for this class violates the policies on this website you will receive no points for that component of the course.

Classroom behavior. Please be considerate of other students and the professor during class.  Please do not eat, read the newspaper, use social media, text, or carry on conversations unrelated to class. Also, please do not start to pack up your materials before Dr. Lindell has dismissed the class.

Professionalism and email etiquette. Please use the course to develop skills of professionalism that will be valuable to you throughout your life, and particularly in obtaining and keeping a job. Aspects of professionalism include respect, timeliness, engagement, courtesy, and careful oral and written communication skills. For example, if you e-mail Dr. Lindell or Connie, please start your e-mail with a greeting such as “Hello Dr. Lindell” or “Dear Connie” rather than launching into your message with no greeting. This is a good policy to follow in any e-mail correspondence with professors or supervisors. Also, please be aware that Connie and I probably do not keep the same hours you do; we will generally receive and respond to student emails Monday-Friday during the day.

Extra hand-outs from lecture will be available from Connie.

Honors option. Students interested in an honors option will write a research paper. You must meet with Dr. Lindell within the first week of class if you are interested in this option.

Course material. As members of a learning community, students are expected to respect the intellectual property of course instructors. All course materials presented to students are the copyrighted property of the course instructor and are subject to the following conditions of use. Students may not record lectures or any other classroom activities. Any student violating the conditions described above may face academic disciplinary sanctions.

Dates, 2019


Assignment due dates*

Jan. 8

What is ecology, models, physical environment


Jan. 10

Physical environment


Jan. 15

Group projects, eBird, identifying birds

Phys. ecol. adapt. acclim. SimUText questions; Phys. ecol. homeostasis SimUText questions.

Jan. 17

Experimental design lab

Lab due at end of class

Jan. 22

Population growth

Pop. growth: geom. growth and exp. growth SimUText questions.

Jan. 24

Life histories

Pop. growth: log., dispersal, variability SimUText questions.

Jan. 29

Species distributions

Quiz 1

Jan. 31



Feb. 5

No class


Feb. 7

Isle Royale lab

Lab due at end of class

Feb. 12

Species interactions

Quiz 2

Feb. 14

To be announced

eBird data due

Feb. 19

Class exercise, species distributions with eBird data

Phys. ecol. tradeoffs SimUText questions.

Feb. 21

Abiotic and biotic influences on population growth and species distributions


Feb. 26

Measuring communities


Feb. 28

Abiotic and biotic influences on communities

Quiz 3

Mar. 12

Succession/Island biogeography


Mar. 14

Metapopulations and Metacommunities


Mar. 17


eBird data due

Mar. 19

Class exercise, species richness and habitats with eBird data


Mar. 21

Climate change

Climate change: why, detecting, biological consequences SimUText questions.

Mar. 26

Climate change

Climate change: Earth’s climate and models SimUText questions.

Mar. 28

Ecosystems ecology, nutrient cycles

Ecosystems: energy, prod. and resp. SimUText questions.

April 2

Ecosystems ecology, Microbial ecology (Connie)

Ecosystems: second. prod., energetics SimUText questions.

April 4

Biodiversity, ecosystem services and disservices

Quiz 4

April 9

Urban ecology, invasive species, biotic homogenization


April 11


eBird data due

April 16

Class exercise, temporal changes in species distributions with eBird data


April 18

Latitudinal gradient in species richness

Clim. change: humans and ecosys. services SimUText questions.

April 23

Interspecific interactions, mutualisms, predation, parasitism

Team member evaluations due through d2l

April 25

Humans and future Earth, citizen science


May 3

Final Exam

Final exam
7:45-9:45 am 128 Nat Sci


*All SimUText assignments are due at 10 am on the due date. eBird assignments are due before midnight on the due dates.