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Tropical Biology

Tropical Biology will be offered again in Fall 2019.

Tropical Biology 2017 Syllabus

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

Integrative Biology 485

Fall 2017

Lecture: T & Th 10:20-11:40 pm

Location: 304 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 11:40-12:30 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. Christopher Warneke, Christopher will hold office hours Wednesdays from 1:30-2:30 pm, or by appointment; 301 Nat. Sci.

D2L. We will be using the D2L system ( to make course materials available to you. You will also submit assignments through this system. After logging into your D2L account (using your MSU credentials), the first page you should see will 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". Feel free to contact Christopher if you struggle with the use of D2L and he will be happy to help.

Lecture Outlines. We will try to put lecture outlines on D2L about a day before each lecture. 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. 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

Quizzes, 4-each worth 25 points


Species richness lab


Final exam


Oral presentation based on research paper


Research paper (6-7 pages plus references)

See next five rows

Question and reference list




Rough draft


Peer review


Final draft


Homework assignments, 2-each worth 20


Tropical Thanksgiving poster


Class attendance and participation





Grading scale

90% and up 4.0







Quizzes and Exams

Quizzes and exams will primarily have essay questions. The exams will cover material presented in lecture and material from the 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 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 10 am on the day when the assignment is due. The only exception to this is the oral presentation that should be emailed to Dr. Lindell 24 hours before presentation time—please see detailed instructions for the assignment on D2L. 

Homework assignments will receive 20, 18, 15, 12, 8, 5, or 1 point. See rubric in course folder.

Attendance will be taken every day.

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: 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, 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 or Christopher, please start your e-mail with a greeting such as “Hello Dr. Lindell” or “Dear Christopher” 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.

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

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 Instructional Rating System) process to gather student feedback. The Integrative Biology Department utilizes the "online SIRS" system, and you will receive an email sometimes 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 futre.

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, 2017

Class Topic

Reading, Assignment due dates

Aug. 31

Introductions, pre-course quiz


Sept. 5

What are the tropics?

Developing scientific questions, hypotheses, and predictions


Sept. 7

Tropical climate,

Discussion of research assignment

Text pp 1-34

Sept. 12

Species richness

Quiz 1

Sept. 14

Species richness lab

Student Services Bldg., 26, Hand in lab to Christopher

Sept. 19

Species diversity patterns

Text pp 109-153

Sept. 21

Historical influences on species’ distributions

Quiz 2, Text pp 38-78

Sept. 26

Plant structure and function, Greenhouse

Text pp 79-108

Sept. 28


Homework 1 due: Sankaran et al. 2005

Oct. 3

Interspecific interactions, Trophic dynamics

Question and reference list due, Text pp 227-271

Oct. 5

Interspecific interactions, Steve Roels guest speaker

Text pp. 272-298

Oct. 10

Latitudinal gradient in species interactions

Quiz 3

Oct. 12

Biodiversity and ecosystem function

Homework 2: Erskine et al. 2006

Oct. 17

Scientific methods and paper writing, Agroecosystems

Outline due

Oct. 19

Research paper and presentation work day


Oct. 24

Tropical vertebrates

Quiz 4

Oct. 26

Restoration Ecology


Oct. 31

Tropical indigenous groups


Nov. 2

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


Nov. 7

Carbon Storage and Flux

Text pp 323-358

Rough drafts due

Nov. 9

Catch-up Day


Nov. 14

Peer review


Nov. 16

Student presentations

Final drafts due

Nov. 21

Tropical Thanksgiving

Tropical Thanksgiving poster and food

Nov. 28

Forest fragmentation

Text pp 500-529

Nov. 30

Student presentations

Final drafts due

Dec. 5

Student presentations

Final drafts due

Dec. 7

Student presentations

Final drafts due

Dec. 7

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

Text pp 530-563

Dec. 14


Final exam
10 am-12 pm, Room 304 Nat Sci