Applying Quantitative Reasoning to Biodiversity

This page features a series of Excel-based projects on the mathematics of biodiversity. They formed a significant portion of the curriculum for the course Quantitative Environmental Analysis at Green Mountain College taught by Kenneth Mulder and Valorie Titus. They were designed to allow students to apply in a consistent framework many of the concepts and techniques they were learning in the course which used the text Quantitative Reasoning and the Environment by Langkamp and Hull.
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This series of 6 Excel-based projects lead students through a variety of analysis and modeling exercises exploring the mathematics of biodiversity. They serve to provide students with an application of various basic math techniques they would study in a college-math course as well as an opportunity to develop skills using Excel for data analysis and modeling.

Primary learning objectives include: calculating probabilities and proportions; plotting data and fitting linear and exponential models; learning how to create species accumulation curves; testing simple hypotheses of ecological structure that underlie observed biodiversity trends.

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Learning Goals

Students should develop a deeper understanding of biodiversity and the structure of ecosystems as seen in species distributions.

It advances student literacy around sustainability issues and develops skills in data analysis and the utilization of mathematical models

Context for Use

These projects work very well in a 1 - 1.5 hour lab setting with students finishing the work as an assignment. Projects are amenable to working in pairs. Learning objectives are suitable to a college-math or developmental math course. As long as projects are pursued sequentially, not prior exposure to Excel is necessary. Each project can stand alone but will require some adaptation.

Description and Teaching Materials

All projects except #4 are included on this page as stand-alone Excel spreadsheets. Each spreadsheet contains text boxes guiding the students through the assignment. Assignment #4 utilizes an agent-based model designed with the program NetLogo that is available from the web. Recording and analyzing data from Project #4 should be done in a separate spreadsheet created by the student.

All projects should be reviewed and modified as necessary prior to use.

Project #1 (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 15kB Jan7 15)

Project #2 (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 38kB Jan7 15)

Project #3 (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 36kB Jan7 15)

Project #4 Directions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 16kB Jan7 15)

Project #5 (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 72kB Jan7 15)

Project #6 (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 1.1MB Jan7 15)

Teaching Notes and Tips

A short overview of the assignment is recommended, and for larger classes, a TA who is familiar with Excel is very helpful in the lab.


Projects have clear objectives including analysis and short responses that demonstrate knowledge and mastery.

References and Resources