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Course Information

Instructor Info:Noah Charney
TA Info:Alessandro Bartolo
Nadine Rea
Term: 2013S
Meeting Info: Monday Friday
01:00 PM - 02:20 PM Cole Science Center 3-OPEN
01:00 PM - 02:20 PM Cole Science Center 3-OPEN
02:30 PM - 05:20 PM Cole Science Center 333

Vernal pools have served as model systems throughout much of biology, with their inhabitants yielding insights into the evolution of sex, metapopulation theory, endosymbiosis, endangered species conservation and more. In this course we explore ecology, evolution, and conservation through the lens of the ephemeral wetland microcosm. Each week we will examine case studies from the scientific literature, exploring the system from many different angles. A primary focus of the course will be on developing and defending scientific study designs. For their final project, students will complete an independent experimental study. During lab periods, we will pay weekly visits to ponds on campus. Prerequisite: a course in evolution, ecology, or statistics.

Course Objectives:

In this course, you should improve your:

  • Comfort with reading scientific articles
  • Ability to present and defend ideas in front of a group
  • Understanding of fundamental concepts in ecology and evolution
  • Understanding of study design and statistical methods
  • Ability to conceive of and design scientific studies
  • Ability to carry out research and write it up
  • Familiarity with local natural history
Evaluation Criteria:

Evaluations will be based primarily on:

1. Discussion Participation.  Did you participate and show interest in the conversations?  Did you ask and answer questions during discussions?  Were you prepared for the discussions?  Did your ability to lead discussions improve over the semester?

2. Research Project.  Did you start the project early enough?  Did you come up with a good question and study design?  Did you execute the study well?  Is your analysis of the results sound? Did you find good quality references and use them well?  Was the paper well written? Did you submit section drafts in time for me to comment on them?  Did you include a good map?  Did you follow scientific journal format?  Did you give a good presentation?

3. Daily Assignments.  Did you complete all assignments?  Did you demonstrate that you had read and thought carefully about the papers?  Did you put effort into designing good quality studies?

4. Attendance/tardiness.  Did you attend all labs and classes on time?  How much class time did you miss by being late?

Additional Info:

You are also required to participate in at least one of the night-time vernal pool visits.  The timing of these night-time visits depends entirely upon the weather, but will occur sometime between late March and the end of the semester.  There will be several opportunities for you to participate in both on campus and off campus trips.

Daily Assignments. 

For each class, you will be asked to complete a reading and writing assignment, and submit it online BEFORE class.  You should maintain a word document on your computer of every entry that you post to Moodle, and this word document will become part of your final portfolio.  These assignments are meant as preparation for class discussions, so late assignments will not be accepted.  These assignments will usually be one, or a combination of the following types:

Propose a Study: Read the assigned paper(s).  Come up with a study you could do that is in some way is related to any aspect of the paper.  Give a 1 paragraph summary of your study that includes: (1) A justification for why your study is worthwhile, (2) hypotheses when appropriate, and (3) detailed methods (including experimental setup, number of replicates, and statistical approach).  In class, be prepared to outline and defend or critically analyze both the assigned paper and your study.

Summary:  Read the assigned paper(s).  Briefly summarize the paper (in a paragraph).

Terms:  Read the assigned paper(s).  Write down 2 important terms from the reading that you are unfamiliar with.  Look up these terms and define them.  In class, be prepared to outline and defend or critically analyze the assigned paper and to define your terms.

Another Article: Read the assigned paper(s).  Now read another peer-reviewed paper that is cited by the assigned paper, or which cites the assigned paper (and not included in our assigned reading list).  Briefly summarize your other paper, and say how it relates to the assigned paper.  In class, be prepared to outline and defend or critically analyze both the assigned paper and the other paper you read.

Book  I recommend that all students order the following book:

Kenny, L. P. and M. R. Burne.  2009.  A field guide to the animals of vernal pools, third printing.  Massachusetts: Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. ($12)

                I will send in an order after class on Friday, Feb 1st, for anyone that gives me $12 by then.

Research Project 

Each student must design and complete a field based scientific study related to vernal pools.  I encourage group work, however the expectations for final projects will be higher for groups than for individuals.  You should begin planning your project early in the semester, in time to complete the experiments.  Final papers for students working alone should contain a minimum of 10 peer-reviewed citations, an ArcGIS map of your field sites, and should follow the format of a research article in the journal Ecology.  You will give a 10 minute Power Point (or similar software) presentation of your study in the last week of class.  Final papers will be due the following week.

PLAGIARISM - see Hampshire guidelines at

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as if it were your own, whether you mean to or not. ‘Someone else’s work’ means anything that is not your own idea. Even if it is presented in your own style, you must still acknowledge your sources fully and appropriately. This includes:

  • material from books, journals or any other printed source
  • the work of other students or staff
  • information from the Internet
  • software programs and other electronic material
  • designs and ideas
  • the organisation or structuring of any such material.

(From Victoria University of Wellington,