Dr. Kristen Cecala: Using An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water Resources in Biology 210 at Sewanee: the University of the South

About this Course

This is a 200-level course that serves students intending to major in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolution. Though intended for sophomore and junior majors, some students cannot take the course until their senior year resulting in a diversity of experiences and exposure to ecology.

2 lecture periods of 75 minutes and 1 lab period of 180 minutes weekly

Bio 210 Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 160kB Jul5 17)

Ecology regularly integrates expertise developed in other disciplines to allow us to understand interactions in the natural world. Teaching concepts in ecosystem ecology that require rudimentary comprehension of chemistry for nutrient cycling and availability can be challenging for two reasons: 1) students have the misconception that scientific disciplines don't inform one another, and 2) nutrient cycling can seem abstract.

I introduced this module into my ecology course to use easier to understand cycles of water to illustrate and initiate conceptualization of more complex nitrogen cycling while maintaining a conservation-based approach.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterials

I used a modified version of the Ecosystems Services Approach to Water Resources module to introduce ecosystem ecology. The modified InTeGrate module and new module that I created complemented each other and provided a visual and familiar model to explore new content. I enjoy exploring the InTeGrate modules to develop new ideas or new uses for tools in my courses. I look forward to using future InTeGrate modules.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

This module was implemented just before beginning our unit on ecosystem ecology (approximately 1/3 of the course). This approach to thinking about systems as a whole rather than as populations or as communities was new to these students, and this module was a great introduction to thinking about systems comprehensively. Linked with a newly developed module on nitrogen cycling also helped to introduce environmental chemistry in an approachable format. We continued practice of designing experiments, collecting data, and analyzing/interpreting data.

I think of this lab in the future as a signature lab for the ecosystem ecology unit for which I have always struggled to develop a lab that acknowledges the interdisciplinary nature of ecosystems and illustrates concepts that are typically invisible.


I adapted the pre-class questions to my classroom. Students answered questions on a formative assessment that was graded for completion before the first lab period. They were asked the same questions as a summative assessment linked with one formative question for the next lab period. They also turned in a short summary of their two experiments including a hypothesis, figure, statement of results, and recommendations/conclusions. The two short experiments done in groups were similar to previous lab assignments, and students were prepared before these modules to complete these assignments.


My goal was to introduce system thinking to students as a way to introduce ecosystem ecology though I think these labs would work better if they had occurred simultaneous to teaching the ecosystem ecology section rather than ~2 weeks before. We discussed the results of the experiment when discussing nutrient cycling, but it was clear that too much time had elapsed between completion of the lab and learning this material.

Students split up and had the flexibility to learn more about the development of standard curves or spend more time in the field. It allowed them to cater the lab to their interests. Students enjoyed connecting field work with lab work and learning more about local watershed differences. They reported enjoying learning how to do basic environmental chemistry to answer ecological questions but were frustrated with some technical issues that we had with our spectrophotometers. A few students also wished that they had more time to explore the EPA Stormwater Calculator.

In future iterations, I will provide more information about LIDs in introductory material and provide a more detailed description of standard calibration curves. I am also likely to move our concept mapping of drivers on nitrogen cycling to lecture to provide more time in the field and in the lab to complete both nitrogen and phosphorus sampling.