BIOL 301: Ecology and Evolution

This course introduces students to the quantitative study of ecology and evolution. When I teach it (normally in the Fall) I emphasize 1) how basic mathematical models represent real biological phenomena, 2) how scientific concepts are embodied in graphical depictions of data, and 3) the logic of experiments and other approaches to testing hypotheses. I divide the course into three segments, addressing population ecology, evolution, and community ecology. As time permits, we incorporate behavioral ecology, ecosystem processes, physiological ecology, and molecular evolution. I also survey students at the beginning of the semester and use examples from organisms in which the class expresses the most interest. However, I limit the scope of material we cover in the course in order to emphasize comprehension and applicaton of quantitative models.

In addition, we study evolution through The Beak of the Finch, a Pulizter Prize-winning book. This allows us to work on analyzing scientific ideas through concise written assignments, which we then explore through extended classroom discussions. This helps mitigate the drawbacks of a large lecture course (>120 students, usually).

Be warned: This is not a natural history course. Students who think the class is going to be like watching the Discovery Channel are often shocked at how rigorous the course is. Exams require thinking, not simply remembering. Grades are based on a combination of exams, problem sets, and several essays.

Waterfalls in Copan, Honduras

Successful students will:

  • 1) develop an understanding of the theory and practice of ecology and evolutionary biology
  • 2) increase proficiency in ecological problem-solving and the quantitative assessment, interpretation and presentation of ecological principles
  • 3) discuss and interpret the characteristic phenomena of biological populations and communities
  • 4) explain verbally, illustrate graphically, and quantitatively summarize interactions among individuals, populations, and species
  • 5) use various theoretical approaches to understanding both adaptive and non-adaptive evolutionary processes
  • 6) explain the logic of adaptation by natural selection
  • 7) be able to interpret graphs, charts, tables in terms of ecological & evolutionary principles
  • 8) describe and interpret basic mathematical models of ecological and evolutionary processes
  • 9) design, and interpret data from, experiments that test specific ecological or evolutionary hypotheses
  • Actual Comments from Prior Students:

    "Dr.Dudycha is an incredibly gifted teacher. His teaching style was informative and interactive, I was able to absorb so much more by using the logical thinking he encouraged in the lectures, reading, and exams. I thoroughly enjoyed his class this semester."

    "He definetely wants his students to learn the most that they can and is very dedicated to his work! One of the best teachers I have had in college."

    "This course is one of the most interesting courses I have taken. I enjoyed the subject matter and was excited to go to class and learn more. This seems to be one of the classes that is most applicable to daily life as a biologist."

    "The exams were EXTREMELY difficult."

    "He was very flexible and listened to the students' opinions about how to better learn the material"

    "I thoroughly enjoyed having him as a teacher. He is not only knowledgeable about the subject, but his approach to teaching makes being in class fun. I really like the way he kept the class involved in the class by asking questions periodically, and having people draw things on the board. Actually, the class was more of a discussion than a lecture, which I feel provides more effective and lasting learning."

    "The tests this instructor gave basically wanted us to study alot of graphs which is almost impossible to focus on when concepts are to be learned. I dont understand how we are suppose to spit out graphs and learn concpets...learning which axis to label I think is a bit ridiculous when concpets are to be understood. Everyone is not a visual learner and a hefty percentage of the lecture material consisted of this."

    "Excellent professor. I learned more in this class than any other!"

    "For a Biology course, there was a lot more math than I'd expected."

    "Professor Dudycha was an outstanding teacher. Although the content of his class can be difficult at times, his methods of instructing are highly effective and it's evident that he wants us to learn rather than just presenting us with data and facts and testing us on it later. Also, he learned each of our names. He once saw me around campus (outside of class) and called me by my name. I've never had a professor in the history of my college career do that."

    "I would have liked this course if there wasn't so much abstract thinking involved."

    "I feel that the way he made tests was ridiculous. When studying, I felt like I understood the topics but when it came to the tests I could barely answer the questions. Also his grading, especially for Beak posts, was unfair. He was so unfair and picky so you never know what he expects so because you have a limit you can't put every single thing to make sure it's in there. If you miss one minor point you dont get full points."

    "Needs to stop wearing all the crazy shirts."

    dN/dt = rN(1 - N/K)

    The logistic equation describes population growth when resources are limited. We build the equation through biological concepts, and then elaborate on it to handle more complex ecological situations.

    Adaptation by Natural Selection

    We develop the logic of adaptation by natural selection, examining the five basic observations and three inferences that lead to its ultimate conclusion. Much of our focus is on Galapagos Finches as examples.

    Trophic Interactions in Food Webs

    Trophic intereactions influence the population dyamics of multiple species. Using a combination of graphical and mathematical approaches, we think through how species feedback on each other.