Biocomplexity Breakout Session I

Questions for consideration:
  • What do we mean by Biocomplexity?
  • What are the essential components?
  • How do these inform our activities
    1. As researchers?
    2. As educators (i.e., what we teach and how we teach it)?

What are the essential components of Biocomplexity?

Interfaces (between bio, geo, human)

  • Broadly speaking
  • Specific components
  • Emphasizes areas of interaction


  • Spatial—hastened to be emphasized
  • Temporal—critical, needs more emphasis
  • Connections and lessons across scales important


  • Importance of teams
  • Discussion of how much of each discipline?

Systems approach

  • Integrative
  • Feedback loops
  • Hierarchies of organization

"Human" vs. "Natural" systems

  • Break down this dichotomy
  • All one "system"


  • Moving from deterministic to probabilistic conceptions
  • Importance in managing earth systems
  • Process oriented

Implications for education

  • Break down false barrier between earth sciences vs. life sciences.
  • Create cultural shift to problem solving in a new integrated way.

A list of key words in Biocomplexity

  • Interaction
  • Integrative perspective
  • Temporal scale
  • Spatial scale
  • Interactions
  • Synthesis
  • Systems dynamics
  • Multiple feedbacks and mechanisms
  • Environment (human and otherwise)
  • Intersections of sub-systems
  • Interconnectedness
  • Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary
  • Whole is greater than the sum of the parts


  • How do we translate these themes into education?
  • Do we consider humans as simply part of biological systems?
  • What about social, cultural and economic systems?

Key points:

  • Biocomplexity research takes lots of people.
  • Biocomplexity is entirely incompatible with academic structures (tenure, promotion, traditional disciplines and departments).
  • "Utter failure" or "inadequacy" of a reductionist approach

Biocomplexity componenets:

  • Physical, chemical, biological and human interactions and feedback (also pre-human)
  • Spatial and temporal variability on a range of scales
  • Non-linear
  • Multiple perspectives and ways of "knowing" and collecting "knowledge"

Value added—beyond what has been done before

  • Advanced math understanding—emergent math
  • Different levels of interaction
  • Human response manifest in humanities
  • Multiple ways of "knowing" and collecting "knowledge"


  1. Evolving science and academic culture
    • Interdisciplinary/team building
    • Change in individual thinking
  2. Paradigm shift in teaching to recognize complexity
    • We don't know all the answers


  • Clear teaching templates and students' resources
  • Play on strengths of classroom
  • Could be focus of:
    1. Intro courses (e.g. place-based)
    2. "Block" or "linked" courses
    3. Synthesis courses
  • Intro courses should have direct relevance to students
  • Team teaching, NOT tag teaching
  • Questions:
    1. How would a biocomplexity curriculum be perceived post-graduation?
    2. What would a biocomplexity major/minor/degree mean?