Bi1370 Basic Ecological Literacy

Faculty of Science
Autumn 2020
Extent and Intensity
2/0/0. 2 credit(s) (plus extra credits for completion). Type of Completion: zk (examination).
doc. Jeffrey Clark Nekola, PhD. (lecturer)
Guaranteed by
doc. Jeffrey Clark Nekola, PhD.
Department of Botany and Zoology - Biology Section - Faculty of Science
Contact Person: doc. Jeffrey Clark Nekola, PhD.
Supplier department: Department of Botany and Zoology - Biology Section - Faculty of Science
Course Enrolment Limitations
The course is offered to students of any study field.
The capacity limit for the course is 150 student(s).
Current registration and enrolment status: enrolled: 0/150, only registered: 0/150, only registered with preference (fields directly associated with the programme): 0/150
Course objectives
"This generation will require leaders and citizens who can think ecologically, understand the interconnectedness of human and natural systems, and have the will, ability, and courage to act." -  Michael K. Stone (2009)
Ecological issues represent some of the most profound problems facing humanity in the 21st Century. Making the best decisions for the planet and ourselves thus requires that all citizens possess literacy in the basic tenets of Ecology. While we are all told that "global warming is bad" or "air pollution is bad" or "saving the rain forest is good", it is the goal of this course to help explain why these statements may be true along with the science used to back up these claims. Because we are simply one of 30 million species on this lump of rock, all alone in the night, it is time that we begin seeing our world from a non-human centric perspective.
The course will be presented in three groups of lectures: The first section is an overview of some of the major attributes of the abiotic world which influence life: geology, water, air, soil, and the cycling of nutrients. The second section then considers the major biological processes which effect life: population dynamics, species interactions, community change and food webs. In the last section these concepts are applied to the fate of biodiversity in the modern world.
Learning outcomes
Students will first investigate the major concepts underlying plate tectonics and basic geology such as the differences between igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. They will then learn about the water cycle and basic atmospheric processes, and the essential components of soil development and classification. Next we will cover the Biogeochemical Cycles of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Carbon, and Sulfur. The course then turns to the biosphere. Students will first become familiar with the major ways in which population growth is modeled. Next they will learn about the life history strategies that species use to optimize survival vs. reproduction, and the factors that limit a species range. Competition, predation, and mutualism are considered next. Following the mid-term exam, we consider species composition change over time and the properties of food webs. The course ends with a series of lectures considering biodiversity, in particular its dynamism over both space and time, and the ways in which species are able to coexist. Optimum design of nature reserves is then reviewed in terms of size and connectedness. The course ends by detailing the factors leading to the expansion of exotics species, the loss of songbirds, and the potential impact of global environmental change.
  • Week 1a - Geologic Patterns and Processes
  • (Know the major concepts underlying plate tectonics; the history of modern continents, and the difference between the development and properties of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks)
  • Week 1b - The Water Cycle
  • (Know the differences between evaporation, transpiration, sublimation, and condensation; understand the major factors which influence groundwater resources; understand what forms rain shadows; be able to diagram the global water budget)
  • Week 2a - Climate
  • (Know the chemical constituents and divisions of the Earth's atmosphere; understand how energy from the sun drives global circulation patterns, and how fluctuations in the Earth's orbit can alter the climate)
  • Week 2b - Soils
  • (Know the major horizons present in a 'typical' soil profile, and the general processes which have lead to their formation; be able to identify some of the major soil types found on Earth, and be able to relate these to the climate and vegetation in a region)
  • Week 3a - Biogeochemical Cycles 1: N
  • (Know the major global pools of Nitrogen and the major transformations it undergoes while cycling between the biotic and abiotic realms; understand why Nitrogen is vital to the health of living organisms, and why Nitrogen levels usually limit production of terrestrial systems)
  • Week 3b - Biogeochemical Cycles 2: P
  • (Know the major global pools of Phosphorus and the major transformations it undergoes while cycling between the biotic and abiotic realms; understand why Phosphorus is vital to the health of living organisms, and why Phosphorus levels usually limit production of aquatic systems)
  • Week 4a - Biogeochemical Cycles 3: C
  • (Know the major global pools of Carbon and the major transformations it undergoes while cycling between the biotic and abiotic realms; understand how the levels of Carbon in the atmosphere may change global climate, and the ways in which Carbon can be naturally taken from the atmosphere and stored)
  • Week 4b - Biogeochemical Cycles 4: S
  • (Know the major global pools of Sulfur and the major transformations it undergoes while cycling between the biotic and abiotic realms; understand how the changes in Sulfur emissions may lead to acidification of waters and soils)
  • Week 5a - Population models
  • (Know the difference between linear, exponential, and logistic models of growth; know what is meant by carrying capacity, and the density dependent and independent ways in which population size is regulated)
  • Week 5b - Life History Strategies
  • (Understand the necessity if tradeoffs in the evolution of life history traits; be able to differentiate between those species which attempt to maximize reproductive potential (r-selected species) from those which attempt to maximize their competitive abilities (K-selected species) and be able to understand why most species (including humans) represent some combination of both)
  • Week 6a - Limits of Range
  • (Know the environmental factors that most often limit the distribution of species and the ways in which they can be scientifically identified)
  • Week 6b - Competition
  • (Understand the differences between intra- and interspecific competition; be able to understand what is meant by competitive exclusion, and how this may effect the distribution and abundance of both plant and animal species)
  • Week 7a - Predation
  • (Recognize the differences between predation and competition; understand why competitive interactions often leads to oscillations in the size of predator and prey populations; know the conditions necessary for the co-existence of predator and prey species)
  • Week 7b - Mutualisms
  • (Know the differences between Mullerian and Batesian mimics; understand the differences between symbiotic, non-symbiotic, and facultative mutualisms, and be able to provide examples of each)
  • Week 8 - Exam 1
  • Week 9a - Succession
  • (Be able to define and give examples of primary and secondary succession; know the major mechanisms underlying successional change; understand the establishment, thinning, transition, and steady state phases of forest succession)
  • Week 9b - Food webs: Primary production
  • (Define primary production, and how sunlight is harvested to create biological energy; know how to estimate Gross Primary Production and Net Primary Production, and the factors that limit each in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems)
  • Week 10a - Food webs: Consumers and ecological efficiency
  • (Know how energy is passed through a food web; understand what is meant by ecological efficiency, and how energy is lost from one tropic level to the next)
  • Week 10b - Biodiversity through Space and Time
  • (Know how biodiversity is defined and the major global and regional patterns of biodiversity within terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; know the history of biodiversity through time, and the factors which have changed these levels).
  • Week 11a - Mechanisms of Coexistence
  • (Understand how niche relations, environmental heterogeneity, mass effect, competitive co-equivalency, and the intermediate disturbance hypothesis can account for the coexistence of species)
  • Week 11b - The Theory of Island Biogeography
  • (Understand the development of and mechanisms underlying what has been called the 'first law of conservation biology'; consider how this theory may be applied to human-fragmented ecosystems)
  • Week 12a - Reserve Design: the SLOSS and Corridor debates
  • (Understand the science and controversy surrounding the Single Large or Several Small reserve design debate; consider the efficacy of using corridors to connect reserve sites)
  • Week 12b - The Exotic Species Plague
  • (Investigate the factors which underlie the spread of exotic species into the landscape; the effect of these species on overall biodiversity, and our ability to control these populations)
  • Week 13a - Where Have all the Songbirds Gone?
  • (Document the loss of native migratory songbird populations in North America, and consider the factors which may underlie this pattern, including tropical and local forest fragmentation)
  • Week 13b - Biodiversity in the Age of Global Warming
  • (Consider the effects of global warming on species range, and the ability of nature reserves to maintain biodiversity; discuss potential ways in which it can be mitigated)
  • Week 14 - Exam 2
Teaching methods
The course will be taught via lectures. Course lecture notes for each lecture will be made available via the Course Website on the MUNI IS portal. I will encourage an interactive atmosphere in which the students are able to ask questions and consider the potential answers. This course is exclusively taught in English.
Assessment methods
Course grades will be based on two equally weighted multiple-choice exams of 70 questions each. These will be comprehensive, covering all material presented in the class to that time. However, material covered on earlier examinations will largely attempt to assess application of concepts and principles rather than specific facts. The following grad scale will be employed: 100-90% answers correct – A; 89-80% - B; 79-70% - C; 69-60% - D; 59-50% - E; <50% - F.
Language of instruction
Further comments (probably available only in Czech)
Study Materials
The course is taught annually.
The course is taught: every week.
Teacher's information
Office: University Campus Bohunice, building 32, room 328; email:; course website on the MUNI IS portal
The course is also listed under the following terms Autumn 2019.
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