Botany 950 - Seminar: Analyzing Community Change

Meets: 2:25 - 3:25 PM, Wednesdays, 348 Birge Hall

Instructor: Don Waller 232 Birge Hall 263-2042


In an era of dwindling habitats, declining species, mounting ecological assaults on the environment, and concern with ecological services, it is increasingly important to be able to analyze patterns of ecological change. Such changes are of growing significance for those engaged in monitoring threatened and invading populations and determining how ecosystem functions are tied to these shifts in community composition and dynamics. However, tracking such changes presents challenges, both in terms of the 'missing baseline' problem and because the causes and consequences of ecological change are complex.

Which metrics or methods of analysis are best suited for detecting and analyzing particular types of ecological change? In this graduate seminar, we will read about and discuss a variety of issues involved with detecting, analyzing, and interpreting data on ecological change. The seminar will focus particularly on methods to detect and analyze changes in community properties and distinguishing those changes due to intrinsic or stochastic dynamics from those driven by anthropogenic forces. For example, can we relate shifts in diversity, cover, nestedess, functional group representation, or other properties to shifts in landscape fragmentation, climate, invasions, or disturbance regimes? What methods are best for testing theoretical predictions about community composition and dynamics, e.g., from the neutral theory? When might data on ecological change be noisy, unreliable, or positively misleading?

Expectations and Format:

Students will be expected to bring a lively interest in this subject but not necessarily an extensive background. They will work alone or in teams to chose particular problem or analytical approach / method, identify relevant papers on the topic, chose 1-2 of these to distribute, initiate discussion, and, if appropriate, demonstrate the problem or approach using a sample data set in an interactive setting. Teams will compile brief annotated bibliographies on their topic / approach. Our goal will be to become collectively better informed about these methods, more skillful in knowing which methods to apply in a particular situation, and more knowledgeable in interpreting results. Grades will reflect the choice of paper/topic, how effectively discussion is led, participation in other discussions, and the bibliography. All are expected to do the reading and participate actively in the discussion. Anyone may add a second credit under "Special Topics" Bot 699.