Fundamentals of Ecology

Course Description

Investigate the fundamental question of ecology: the processes that determine the distribution and abundance of organisms.  Through reading, discussion, and lecture, explore the principles governing population dynamics over time and space, theories of community assembly and species coexistence, and processes of material cycling through ecosystems. Differentiate and critique major theories of population and community ecology, develop and analyze simple population dynamic models, critically evaluate primary literature and cogently summarize a scientific controversy through writing.  Beyond the core subject matter, identify more general principles of the causal feedbacks, scale dependencies, and contingencies of complex social systems.

Course Contents

1 Autecology
2 Single species population dynamics
3 Consumer-resource interactions
4 Competition, mutualism, and disease
5 Ecological networks and trophic structure
6 Community assembly & succession
7 Spatial processes
8 Nonequilibrium ecology
9 Biodiversity and macroecology
10 Material cycling through ecosystems
11 Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning


Four problem sets worth 25 points each will be assigned with a due date two weeks later. They can be completed in discussion with others, but please turn in your own individual work. One final paper worth 75 points will also be required, which will take the form of a short review of a topic in ecology. Finally, a participation and attendance score of 25 points will be allocated at the end of the course. The assessment total is 200 points.

Prerequisites or Prior Knowledge

Undergraduate-level coursework in general biology and calculus are recommended but not required.


Community Ecology (2nd edition). Mittelbach, GG & McGill, BJ. 2019. Oxford University Press.

Additional required reading in the form of journal articles and book chapters will be made available by the instructor.

Research Specialties