CUREnet > CURE Collection > Population & Community Ecology

Population & Community Ecology

Cascade Sorte, University of California, Irvine
Piper Wallingford, Course Teaching Assistant and Ph.D. Student in the Sorte Lab, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine
Location: California

Abstract

Students in a Population and Community Ecology class participate in coastal marine research focused on understanding factors determining population sizes and community interactions, particularly in the context of species that appear to be shifting their ranges with climate change. Students participate in all aspects of the research from making observations and collecting data in the field to defining questions, stating hypothesis, designing and completing statistical analysis, and interpreting and presenting results. The outcomes are a research proposal, research paper, and poster presentation. All are intended to be at a level appropriate for use as a writing sample or presentation at undergraduate conferences. Results are incorporated into the ongoing research project led by the course instructor and graduate student teaching assistant.

Student Goals

  1. Increase understanding of fundamental ecological theory
  2. Increase critical thinking skills needed to interpret ecological data
  3. Effectively community scientific information (i.e. results of study)

Research Goals

  1. Determine the current range edge of a predatory snail species that is expanding its range along the coast of southern California.
  2. Evaluate the potential for this expanding predatory snail species to compete with local, native predators and to decrease the abundance of native shellfish prey.

Context

This CURE was implemented in a course of 20 students that met twice per week for 80 minutes per meeting over a 10 week term. Prerequisites include introductory writing and statistics, and lower-division biology courses and general ecology and evolution. This CURE capitalized on the local marine environment 15 minutes from campus. Due to the short course period, students attended field surveys outside of class time. Three dates/times were available to allow flexibility.

Target Audience:Major, Non-major, Upper Division
CURE Duration:A full term

CURE Design

The research theme is evaluating the factors driving the abundance and distribution of coastal marine species. The data include abundances of multiple species across multiple field sites and dates. Because the students define the scope of their own project, by determining the research question, they can choose a question that is more straightforward (e.g. comparing abundances of two similar species to see if there is evidence for competition) versus questions with more complexity that encompass multiple species and patterns across space and time. This allows more advanced students to seek out a greater challenge and stay engaged while also allowing students (that may be beginners to e.g. Microsoft Excel) to focus in on a subset of the data. Students also are more successful because they are choosing their own focus.

Core Competencies: Analyzing and interpreting data, Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
Nature of Research: Applied Research, Basic Research, Field Research

Tasks that Align Student and Research Goals

Research Goals →
Student Goals ↓
Research Goal 1: Determine the current range edge of a predatory snail species that is expanding its range along the coast of southern California.
Research Goal 2: Evaluate the potential for this expanding predatory snail species to compete with local, native predators and to decrease the abundance of native shellfish prey.


Student Goal 1: Increase understanding of fundamental ecological theory

Field surveys to collect abundance data; lecture and readings to understand factors setting range limits and how climate change is altering the deal

Field surveys to collect abundance data; lecture and readings to understand factors setting range limits and how climate change is altering the deal



Student Goal 2: Increase critical thinking skills needed to interpret ecological data

Data interpretation is practiced in lecture, reading discussions, and after analyzing the building data set

Data interpretation is practiced in lecture, reading discussions, and after analyzing the building data set



Student Goal 3: Effectively community scientific information (i.e. results of study)

Students prepare a research proposal, research paper and poster presentation, which is open by invitation outside of the class

Students prepare a research proposal, research paper and poster presentation, which is open by invitation outside of the class


Instructional Materials

Course syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 101kB Jun12 18)
CURE Introduction (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 9.5MB Jun12 18)
Paper instructions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Jun12 18)

Assessment

Paper Grading Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Jun12 18)
Proposal Grading Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Jun12 18)

Instructional Staffing

The graduate teaching assistant is leading data collection for this project, so she introduced the CURE, led the field surveys, entered the data, and assisted with grading the final drafts of the papers and the posters. Students completed peer reviews in pairs, each reviewing the other's rough draft.

Author Experience

Cascade Sorte, University of California, Irvine

Ecology is the study of the natural world, and has sometimes been thought of as the "rigorous proof of the obvious". In order to develop appreciation for the natural world, its complexity, and the scientific process that we use to study it, I bring students into the field to experience the environment first-hand and give them an opportunity to make their own observations and ask their own questions, which they then answer using real, unpublished data sets (ideally to which they themselves have contributed).


Advice for Implementation

We are currently implementing a writing mentoring program that will involved additional graduate students in the course, in order to increase the amount of individual feedback, particularly in experimental design and statistical analyses. We also spend a class on a statistics refresher, but many of the students are still catching up with basic Microsoft Excel use so there are several steps to get to completing data analysis.

Iteration

Field surveys are unpredictable, and we needed to shift some of our surveys to an alternate location due to storms and high waves - which allowed us to continue with the methods but meant that some data are not consistent with previous surveys. Students recognize that the data set has "holes" and how to deal with those appropriately. Students get feedback on a rough draft and then spend several weeks on revisions, allowing them to correct issues.

Using CURE Data

To date, the data are seen as useful in assessing presence/absence of target species. Because this is an ongoing project, the publication issue is still to be determined. To date, each student's participation has been relatively minimal and not deserving of authorship. However, we expect that students could move into that role, particularly if they continue on as mentees after the course and if they use the project for a senior thesis. We currently have one student from the 2017 course that is continuing as an undergraduate research mentee in 2018.

Resources

Smith, J. R., Fong, P., & Ambrose, R. F. (2006). Dramatic declines in mussel bed community diversity: response to climate change?. Ecology, 87(5), 1153-1161.

Fenberg, P. B., Posbic, K., & Hellberg, M. E. (2014). Historical and recent processes shaping the geographic range of a rocky intertidal gastropod: phylogeography, ecology, and habitat availability. Ecology and evolution, 4(16), 3244-3255.

Sorte, Cascade JB, Victoria E. Davidson, Marcus C. Franklin, Kylla M. Benes, Meredith M. Doellman, Ron J. Etter, Robyn E. Hannigan, Jane Lubchenco, and Bruce A. Menge. "Long‐term declines in an intertidal foundation species parallel shifts in community composition." Global change biology 23, no. 1 (2017): 341-352.




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