Ecosystem Ecology

Mary Beth Kolozsvary
Siena College


This course studies the interrelations of organisms with each other and the environment. The lectures are equally divided between ecosystem ecology (energy and material flux, modeling), population ecology (population dynamics, competition, predation) and community ecology (structure, diversity, and community dynamics). The lab will emphasize field methodology and data collection, data summary, analysis, and interpretation.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a sophomore-level course with two semesters of general biology as a prerequisite, and most students will have already taken our freshman-level required course: Environmental Science. Ecosystem Ecology is required for all Environmental Studies and Sciences majors (BA-Environmental Studies; BS-Environmental Science).

Course Content:

This Ecosystem Ecology course focuses on introducing general ecological concepts to sophomore-level Environmental Studies and Sciences majors, especially as they relate to understanding human impacts on ecosystems and finding solutions to environmental problems. Students collect and analyze field data; access and manipulate large-scale environmental datasets; and use simulation models to understand ecological concepts at different scales.

Course Goals:

1. Demonstrate knowledge of basic ecological principles and theories of how organisms interact with their environment and each other.
2. Understand and describe how communities and ecosystems are structured and maintained.
3. Understand and apply models that describe population growth and dynamics, competitive interactions between species, and predator-prey interactions.
4. Understand and apply basic statistics to analyze ecological data, and communicate results and implications of scientific investigations in written and oral formats.

Course Features:

This course uses examination questions; laboratory exercises; multi-week laboratories (including data collection, summarizing, posing hypotheses and evaluating support for those hypotheses); and reading, interpreting, and critiquing primary scientific literature and communicating it to their peers (written and oral format).

Course Philosophy:

The mixture of hands-on data collection, working in small groups to analyze data, helps students better understand these ecological concepts. Our students tend to prefer hands-on type learning, active learning techniques, and collecting data in the field. My approach includes a mix of students working independently, in pairs, and small groups. This is designed to build a community of majors working together to learn and improve their skills and understanding of ecological concepts and how to develop and evaluate potential solutions to environmental problems.


Through a variety of metrics, such as exam questions, and pre- and post-assessment questionnaires.

References and Notes:

Ecology; Cain, M. L., et al.

Clarity and readability.
Several scientific papers (changes year to year).