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Tropical Biology (IBIO/PLB 485)

Tropical Biology 2021 Syllabus

Speckled tanager, with green, yellow, black, and white feathers

Integrative Biology 485

Fall 2021

Lecture: T & Th 8:30-9:50 pm

Location: Online synchronous

Zoom link for class and office hours: https://msu.zoom.us/j/99374145066

Passcode for zoom link: 287079

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, lindellc@msu.edu. Office hours are Thursdays 9:50-11:00 a.m. online. I am happy to make an in-person appointment to talk with you if you are not available during office hours. 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 during office hours, by appointment, or on the phone. 

D2L. We will be using the D2L system (https://d2l.msu.edu/). You will also submit assignments through this system. After logging into your D2L account (using your MSU credentials), the first page you see has links to the courses you are taking this semester. After selecting Tropical Biology, you'll 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 course materials classified into "modules".

LECTURE OUTLINES. I will try to put lecture outlines on D2L about a day before each lecture. I 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. The best strategy is to print the outlines and come to class with them. 

Required textsTropical Ecology by J. Kricher.

Course Description. We will investigate major themes in tropical biology and contrast tropical and temperate ecosystems. We will also explore some of the social, economic, and political influences on tropical ecosystems.

Course Objectives:

Upon completion of the course students should be able to:

1.   define “the tropics” in a geographical sense;

2.     identify climatic and biological characteristics of tropical ecosystems;

3.   identify several major tropical ecosystem types;

4.   contrast and compare tropical and temperate ecosystems;

5.   identify several of the major drivers of latitudinal patterns of species richness;

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

7.   describe a number of the important interspecific interactions in tropical ecosystems;

8.   describe several of the ways in which tropical biologists try to answer scientific questions, and develop methods for trying to answer particular questions;

9.   explain how social, political, and economic factors influence land-cover change and, thus ecosystems in the tropics;

10. read and evaluate a scientific research paper;

Computation of Grades

Three scientific paper evaluations; 50 points each


Attendance at guest lectures


Midterm exam 1


Midterm exam 2


Midterm exam 3


Final exam


Total (one of the midterm exam grades is dropped)


Grading scale

90% and up 4.0







Schedule of classes and assignments




Sept. 2

What are the tropics? Tropical climate

Text pp 6-34

Sept. 7

Manuscript exercise


Sept. 9

Latitudinal gradient in species richness


Text pp 109-130

Sept. 14

Estimating species richness lab


Text pp 130-153

Sept. 16

Historical forces

Roels et al. homework

Sept. 21

Interspecific interactions

Text pp 38-78

Sept. 23


Midterm exam

Sept. 28

Estefania Fernandez, University of Missouri, guest lecture



Text pp 227-250

Sept. 30

Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning


Text pp 251-271

Oct. 5

Structure and function, savannas

Werner et al. homework,

Text pp 79-108

Oct. 7

Tropical islands


Oct. 12

Keystone species

Text pp 301-306

Oct. 14

Dr. J.P. Lawrence, MSU, guest lecture


Oct. 19


Text pp 491-494

Oct. 21


Midterm exam

Oct. 26

Mid-term break, no class


Oct. 28

Dr. Luli Martinez, U. of California Santa Cruz, guest lecture


Nov. 2

Urban ecology

Lim et al. homework

Nov. 4

Indigenous groups

Text pp 469-490

Nov. 9

Social behavior


Nov. 11



Nov. 16

Restoration ecology

Text pp 554-559

Nov. 18


Midterm exam

Nov. 23

Carbon storage and flux

Text pp 323-358

Nov. 30

Climate change


Dec. 2

Forest fragmentation, fire

Text pp 500-529

Dec. 7

Changing tropical environments, conservation and the future

Text pp 530-554

Dec. 9

Final exam review


Dec….date and time to be announced


Final Exam

References for the homework assignments are listed below. To find these papers, go the MSU library website (lib.msu.edu). Go to Electronic Resources under the Resources dropdown menu. Go to Web of Science in the Commonly Used Electronic Resources window on the righthand side of the page. Select Author in the box on the left side of the page. Put the author’s last name into the box on the right side of the page (in the first paper below it is Lim) and click +Add row. Put the publication name (in the Lim paper it is Urban Ecosystems) in the box on the right and selection Publication/Source titles in the box on the left. Click Search. Make sure you choose and download the correct paper (i.e. check the year published, other authors, and title of the paper).

Lim, V.-C., E.L. Clare, J.E. Littlefair, R.Ramli, S. Bhassu, and J.-J. Wilson. 2018. Impact of urbanization and agriculture on the diet of fruit bats. Urban Ecosystems 21:61-70.

Roels, S.M., J.L. Porter, and C.A. Lindell. 2018. Predation pressure by birds and arthropods on herbivorous insects affected by tropical forest restoration strategy. Restoration Ecology 26:1203-1211.

Werner, C. M., D. Kimuyu, K. E. Veblen, R. L. Sensenig, E. LaMalfa, and T. P. Young. 2021. Synergistic effects of long-term herbivory and previous fire on fine-scale heterogeneity of prescribed grassland burns. Ecology 102(4):e03270. 10.1002/ecy.3270

Exams. Exams will have essay questions. The exams will cover material presented in lecture and material from the readings. The final exam will be cumulative; covering material from the whole 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 exams will be allowed only in the case of medical necessity (doctor’s note required) or other emergency to be discussed with the instructor in advance if possible.

Late Assignments will automatically lose 25% of the points available for that assignment and must be turned in within one day of the deadline to receive points. For example, a paper evaluation that is worth 50 points would only be worth a maximum of 37.5 points if the assignment is turned in one day late. Assignments not completed by one day after the deadline will not be accepted and you will receive no points.

Assignment due dates are marked in the syllabus.  Detailed instructions for the paper evaluations are on d2l. You must upload the assignment to d2l before 8 am on the day when the assignment is due.

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 two weeks 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.


If there is a conflict between your observance of a religious holiday and a class requirement, please let me 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: https://www.msu.edu/~ombud/academic-integrity/index.html. 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, use social media, make phone calls, or carry on conversations unrelated to class. 

Email Etiquette

If you e-mail Dr. Lindell, please start your e-mail with a greeting such as “Hello Dr. Lindell” 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.

Course Evaluation

Michigan State University takes seriously the opinion of students in the evaluation of the effectiveness of instruction, and has implemented the SIRS (Student Instructional Rating System) process to gather student feedback. The Integrative Biology Department utilizes the “online SIRS” system, and you will receive an e-mail sometime during the last two weeks of class asking you to fill out the SIRS web form at your convenience. Please note that the final grade for this course will not be accessible on STUINFO during the week following the submission of grades for the course unless the SIRS online form has been filled out. You also have the option on the online SIRS form to decline to participate in the evaluation of the course – we hope, however, that you will be willing to give us your frank and constructive feedback so that we may instruct students even better in the future.

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.