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Tropical Biology (Integrative Biology and Plant Biology 485)

Tropical Biology will be offered again in Fall 2021.

Tropical Biology 2019 Syllabus

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

Integrative Biology 145; 3 credits

Fall 2019

Tuesday and Thursday 8:30-9:50 am

204 Natural Science Building

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 2:00-3:00 p.m. I am happy to make an appointment to talk with you if you are not available after lecture or 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 in person or on the phone. 

D2L. We will be using the D2L system ( 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 your readings and assignments broken up 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. The book is available at the MSU bookstore.

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;

11. find references through electronic databases available through the MSU library web site;

12. make an oral presentation and write a paper on a focused question in the field of tropical biology.

Computation of Grades; points available for each assignment

Species richness lab


Greenhouse lab


Attendance taken on Sept. 24, Oct. 8, Oct. 24, Nov. 5, Nov. 7, and Dec. 3


Tropical Thanksgiving poster


Midterm exam


Final exam


Research paper (6-7 pages plus references)

See next five rows

Question and reference list




Rough draft


Peer review


Final draft






Grading scale

90% and up 4.0







Exams will primarily have essay questions. The exams will cover material presented in lecture and material from the readings. The final exam will not be cumulative; it will include material only from after the midterm exam. 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 the next class. For example, the rough draft that is worth 50 points would only be worth a maximum of 38.5 points if the assignment is turned in one day late. Assignments not completed by one class after the deadline will not be accepted and you will receive no points.

Assignment Due Dates are marked in the syllabus.  Detailed instructions for each assignment are on the course website. 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.

Religious Holidays. If there is a conflict between your observance of a religious holiday and a class requirement, please let us 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. I will be using to check papers for plagiarism. MSU has a license.

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

Reading Assignments. You should complete the reading by the date indicated below.

Honors Option. Students interested in an honors option will write an expanded paper. You must meet with Dr. Lindell during the first two weeks of class if you are interested in this option.

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 InstructionalRating 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.

Dates, 2019

Class Topic


Aug. 29

Introductions, pre-course quiz, discussion of research assignment


Sept. 3

What are the tropics? Tropical climate

Text pp 6-34

Sept. 5

Species richness and sampling


Sept. 10

Global species richness patterns

Text pp 109-130

Sept. 12

Species richness lab (106 Farrall)

Reference list due, Text pp 130-153, Lab due at end of class

Sept. 17

Historical forces, follow up to species richness lab

Text pp 38-78,

Sept. 19

Biotic interactions

Text pp 227-250,

Sept. 24

Lim et al. Urban Ecosystems*

Attendance taken, Read Lim et al. paper*

Sept. 26

Biotic interactions continued

Text pp 251-271

Oct. 1

Biodiversity and ecosystem function

Outline due

Oct. 3

Greenhouse lab

Lab due at end of class, Text pp 79-108

Oct. 8

Roels article Restoration Ecology*, follow up to Greenhouse lab

Attendance taken, Read Roels et al. paper*,

Oct. 10

Structure and function


Oct. 15

Savannas, Urban Ecology

Text pp 390-417

Oct. 17

Midterm exam


Oct. 22



Oct. 24

Modlmeier et al. Animal Behaviour*, Antelope social structure, mixed species flocks.

Attendance taken, Read Modlmeier et al. paper*

Oct. 29

Keystone species


Oct. 31



Nov. 5

Human-biodiversity interactions, guest lecture by Dr. Jerry Urquhart

Attendance taken

Nov. 7

Tropical indigenous groups, peer review

Attendance taken, Text pp 469-499

Nov. 12

Restoration ecology

Rough draft due

Nov. 14

Carbon storage and flux

Text pp 323-358

Nov. 19

Climate change


Nov. 21

Forest fragmentation, fire

Text pp 500-529

Nov. 26

Tropical Thanksgiving

Tropical Thanksgiving poster and food

Dec. 2



Dec. 3

Tropical birds, guest lecture by Dr. Pamela Rasmussen

Attendance taken

Dec. 5

Changing tropical environments, conservation and the future, post-course quiz

Text pp 530-563, Final draft due by 5 pm

Dec. 10


Final exam
7:45 am-9:45 am, Room 204 Nat Sci









































































*To find these papers, go the MSU library website ( 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. Put the author’s last name into the box on the left side of the page (in the first example below it is Lim) and select Author in the box on the right side of the page. Click +Add row. Put the publication name (in the first example below it is Urban Ecosystems) in the box on the left and selection Publication Name in the box on the right. Click on the correct 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.

Modlmeier, A.P., K.L. Laskowski, H.A. Brittingham, A. Coleman, K.A. Knutson, C. Kuo, M. McGuirk, K. Zhao, C.N. Keiser, and J.N. Pruitt. 2015. Adult presence augments juvenile collective foraging in social spiders. Animal Behaviour 109:9-14.

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.