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Course Information

Instructor Info:Charles Ross
Office Extension x5576
Term: 2012F
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
12:30 PM - 01:50 PM Cole Science Center 2-OPEN
12:30 PM - 01:50 PM Cole Science Center 2-OPEN

Molecular ecology utilizes the spatial and temporal distribution of molecular genetic markers to ask questions about the ecology, evolution, behavior, and conservation of organisms. This science may utilize neutral DNA markers to understand individuals, populations, and species as a whole. For instance, "What is the population structure and phylogeography (history) of a species?" Similarly, molecular ecologists may use specific, ecologically important genes to investigate how organisms respond and adapt to their environments ("How do genetically modified organisms escape into natural environments?") We will read background and primary literature in this field to understand how molecular ecology is important in answering basic and applied questions about organisms. Students will research specific applications of this discipline and present their findings in written and oral format. Prerequisites: Some knowledge of biology and genetics will be assumed for this class.

Course Objectives:

Molecular ecology is an area where distribution and variation of biological molecules are used to make inference at organismal and ecological levels.  This course primarily will focus on reading primary scientific literature on various topics of molecular ecology.  While no textbook is formally assigned, you may find it useful to refer to the recommended text listed above.  As an upper 200-level course, I will assume you can read and critique primary scientific articles.  I also assume you have had some biology, genetics, and preferably some math.  However, I also will be happy to review anything that the group would like to make sure we have adequate background for understanding the topic at hand.  As molecular ecology covers many areas of biology, we will draw from a number of formal biological disciplines from genetics, cell and molecular biology, evolution, ecology, etc.  One objective of this class is to give you the exposure, skills, tools, and basic knowledge to understand and evaluate molecular ecology.  Additionally, the course is designed to allow you to make an informed contribution when molecular ecology is relevant or applied in science and elsewhere.

Evaluation Criteria:

Your evaluation will reflect:

- Your work on the assignments (see below),

- Class attendance/participation/discussion 


Assignments (more details later)

•Two-part research review and proposal. 

Part 1:  This paper will review and evaluate three primary research articles that relate to a specific molecular ecology research topic/question/organism.  For this paper, you will read, critique, and report the questions, approaches, analyses, and findings of primary science articles concerning experimental research studies.  The subject is your choice as long as it relates to molecular ecology research. Total length: 5 pages, normal fonts, margins, etc.  More details to follow. 

General Landmarks:

  1. a.   Pick topic/organism/question
  2. b.   Pick papers to evaluate
  3. c.    Discuss with me about ideas
  4. d.   Paper due
  5. e.   Receive feedback for revision


Part 2:  This paper will use the first paper as a foundation for you to write a proposal for a research study that takes the “next step” in the research system you discuss in the first paper.  Your proposal will include a research question and hypothesis, potential methods to pursue and analyses to perform, and interpretation of potential results.  In essence, you will propose how to extend the research of the papers you review in your first paper, much like how a researcher would write a grant proposal to fund their research. Total length: 10 pages (5pp of revision of first paper, 5pp of new proposal), normal fonts, margins, etc.  More details to follow. 

General Landmarks:

  1. a.   Formulate question/hypothesis
  2. b.   Investigate and focus methods/analyses
  3. c.    Discuss with me about ideas
  4. d.   Paper due


*note: We will discuss logistics and approaches for these papers so you have a good idea of how to tackle this assignment.



•Forum questions and discussion.

For each reading we do, you will post 3 questions/discussion points to the course moodle website by midnight of the night before our discussion.  We will use these questions/comments as the foundation for our discussion the next day in class.  The intent here is for you to control what we discuss about a topic or paper, which allows us to focus on things that are interesting or need more clarification, but keeps us from spending too much time on things that everybody already understands.  The plan is to have a new reading every Thursday for discussion on Tuesday; on this schedule, you would post your questions by 11:59pm Monday night.  As the semester proceeds, our schedule may shift off this “Thursday-Tuesday” periodicity (advising days, T-Day, really good discussions that we want to extend, etc.), but posting to the forum the night before will always stand.


•Other assignments

There occasionally may be a short exercise or “thought dump” to allow you to expound on particular subjects. 

Additional Info:

To do science is to search for repeated patterns, not simply to accumulate facts.

-       Robert MacArthur, Geographical Ecology, 1972


There are worse sins for a scientist than to be wrong. One is to be trivial.”

-       Robert MacArthur