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Biol 436 Population Ecology and Global Climate Change


Fall 2013

215 Thomas Bldg., T & Th 11:15 – 12:30


Instructor: Prof. Eric Post

Email:; phone 865-1556

Office hours:  325 Mueller, Tuesdays from 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.


Course Syllabus (subject to minor modifications)


In this class, you will gain an understanding of ecological responses to climate change across levels of organization, from individuals, to populations, to communities, to ecosystems.  You will also learn about how such responses are studied experimentally, observationally, and analytically.  This class is predicated upon critical inquiry, and proceeds along three approaches:  lectures, employing the Socratic method; discussions; and individual student presentations.  Lectures will present core concepts illustrated with case studies, discussions will develop critical thinking skills and confront misinformation about climate change, and student presentations will apply understanding gained throughout the course in assessments of the conservations risks of climate change to focal species.


Text:  Most of the lecture material will be developed from Ecology of Climate Change, Eric Post, Princeton University Press (2013).  Additional material will be derived directly from journal articles and other outside readings specified in the schedule below.  NOTE:  The assigned readings pertain to book chapters, newspaper articles, and journal articles that will supplement discussion during lectures and special topics.  You will also be responsible for articles appearing in the Science Tuesday section of the New York Times. 


Grades will be based on three exams (60% total; 20% each), regular attendance for Special Topics (20%), and a brief in-class presentation (20%).  To get credit for Special Topics, you must attend class and sign in.  If you are unable to do so, credit may be obtained by summarizing in writing an article from that week’s New York Times science section.  Students will be required to follow the guidelines concerning academic integrity as described in the Penn State University Faculty Senate Policy 49-20 (







Aug. 27


Introduction and course overview



Aug. 29

The major climate systems, IPCC climate change scenarios, and means of studying ecological response


Post, Chapter 1


Hansen, J. et al.  2006.  PNAS 103:14,288-14,293.


Sept. 3


Special Topic:  James Hansen’s 1988 Congressional Testimony


Transcript of James Hansen’s 1988 Congressional testimony


“Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate”, New York Times June 24, 1988


“On not flying into a greenhouse frenzy”, S. Fred Singer, New York Times Nov. 16, 1989


Sept. 5


Pleistocene warming and extinctions


Post, Chapter 2


Guthrie, R.D. 2006.  Nature 441:207-209


Sept. 10


Special Topic:  Ben Santer and the 1995 IPCC Assessment Report


“Blast from the Past”, Daily Kos, Jan. 14, 2008


Introduction, Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes & Conway, Bloomsbury Press, 2010.


Singer, S.F. “Human contribution to climate change remains questionable” EOS


Santer, B.D. “Reply to S. Fred Singer” EOS



Sept. 12


Patterns of phenological response to warming


Post, Chapter 3


Root et al. 2003.  Nature 421:57-60



Sept. 17


Special Topic:  Denying global warming



Chapter 6, “The Denial of Global Warming”, Merchants of Doubt



Sept. 19


Threatened & Endangered Species Unit I




Sept. 24


Population dynamics and stability responses to warming


Post, Chapter 4


Tyler et al. 2008 Ecology 89:1675-1686


Sept. 26


Special Topic:  Evidence for anthropogenic warming


Mann et al. 1998 Nature 6678:779-787


Chapter 4, “The Making of the Hockey Stick”, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Michael E. Mann 2012


Oct. 1


Exam I




Oct. 3


Special Topic:  Does a little warming really matter?





Oct. 8


Resources, reproduction, and trophic mismatch


Post, Chapter 6, pages 181-200


Both et al. 2006.  Nature 441:81-83



Oct. 10


Special Topic:  “Climategate”


Chapter 1, “Born in a War”, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars


Chapter 14, “Climategate:  the Real Story”, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars


Oct. 15



The niche concept and climate change


Post, Chapter 5


Tingley et al. 2009.  PNAS 106:19637-19643.


Oct. 17


Special Topic:  Sensitivity of the Arctic





Oct. 22


Threatened & Endangered Species Unit II




Oct. 24


Bioclimatic envelope modeling and species’ range shifts


Post, Chapter 5


Davis et al. 1998.  Nature 391:783-786.



Oct. 29


Community dynamics and stability I:  fundamentals

Post, Chapter 6, pages 163-170


Post & Pedersen 2008. PNAS 105:12353-12358



Oct. 31



Exam II




Nov. 5


Special Topic:  Scientists defend the science of climate change


Greenberg, D. “Our emissions obsession” Nature 2010


Mann, M.E., et al. “Setting the record straight (again)” Nature 2010


Thomas, D. “Writer wrong on climate change” Skeptical Inquirer 2013


Frazier, K. “World still warming” Skeptical Inquirer 2013


Nov. 7


Communities dynamics and stability II:  non-analogues


Post, Chapter 6, pages 171-181


Moritz et al.  2008.  Science 322:261-264.


Nov. 12


Special Topic:  Biodiversity crisis


“Misleading math about the Earth”, Scientific American 2002


“On Bjorn Lomborg and Climate Change” - Grist


“On Bjorn Lomborg and Species Diversity”, N. Myers



Nov. 14


The importance of species interactions


Post 2013. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. 280:20122722



Nov. 19


Special Topic:  Extinctions



“On Bjorn Lomborg and Extinction”, E.O. Wilson


Nov. 21


Biodiversity and extinction risk


Post, Chapter 7


Thomas et al. 2004 Nature 427:145-148


Dec. 3


Threatened & Endangered Species Unit III




Dec. 5


Ecosystem function and dynamics

Post, Chapter 8


Zhao & Running 2010.  Science 329:940-943.


Dec. 10


Special Topic:  Countering Climate Change Denial



Chapter 15, “Fighting Back”, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars


Dec. 12


Exam III






Threatened & Endangered Species units  


You will be assigned a species early in the semester, and will work in groups of 3 throughout the semester to identify the vulnerability of a given species to climate change and other stressors.  On three occasions, one member of the group will make a brief presentation on your species; i.e., you will make one presentation (5 – 10 minutes long).  The objective for the class as a whole is to determine which species is/are most likely to be adversely affected by climate change and other stressors, and which is/are least likely to be affected.  To make these determinations, you will work outside of class (alone or in groups) to rank your species according to several variables provided below. 


Unit I:  Baseline vulnerability (presented Sept. 19)

Rank your species according to:

1. Current population size:  1:  n < 100;   2: 100 < n < 1000;   3:  n > 1000

2. Population trend:  1:  declining; 2:  stable; 3:  increasing

3. Range trend:  1:  declining; 2:  stable; 3:  increasing

4. Future stressors (non-climate):  1:  increasing; 2:  stable; 3:  declining

5. Generation time:  1:  t > 5 years;   2:  5 > t > 2;   3:  t < 2

6. Future vulnerability to natural stressors:  1:  highly vulnerable; 2:  vulnerable; 3:  not vulnerable


Unit II:  Vulnerability to climate change (presented Oct. 22)

Rank your species according to:

1. Vulnerability to temperature change:  1:  adverse; 2:  insensitive; 3: beneficial

2. Vulnerability to precipitation change:  1:  adverse; 2:  insensitive; 3:  beneficial

3. Dispersive capacity:  1:  low; 2:  moderate; 3:  high

4. Degree of habitat specialization:  1:  highly specialized; 2:  moderately specialized; 3:  generalist

5. Probable habitat loss due to climate change:  1:  loss;  2:  no change;  3:  gain

6. Availability of habitat in new range:  1: none;  2: limited extent;  3: large extent


Unit III:  Evaluating overall vulnerability (presented Dec. 3)

Here you will present a synthesis of the above rankings in the following matrix format.  You will attempt to identify the most critical combinations of vulnerability for your species.  You will also categorize your species overall as:  critically vulnerable, highly vulnerable, less vulnerable, least vulnerable, or likely to benefit from climate change.  How you arrive at your conclusion is up to you to decide, but be sure you can explain your thinking.










Climate Change Vulnerabilities