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BIOL 463

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BIOLOGY 463: GENERAL ECOLOGY—Spring 2014  (3 credits)

Instructor: Dr. Matthew Ferrari Office: W243  MSC

Email: or through the course ANGEL site

Lectures: MWF 3:35-4:25 PM in 215 Thomas

Lecture Materials:


Office Hours: Monday 2-3 PM W253 MSC or by appointment in W243 MSC

-- subject to change during semester -- 

Course Website:


Text and Reading

Townsend, Begon & Harper 2008 Essentials of Ecology (3rd Ed) Blackwell. The textbook is an important part of this course because it provides conceptual detail and empirical examples that can be only summarized in lecture. Additional readings from the primary literature will be assigned to complement and supplement the lectures.  



- Your grade will be based on 500 points: three 100-point exams and four 50-point homework assignments.

- Exams will involve a combination of multiple choice, short answer and essay questions.

- Tentative due dates for homework assignments are below (subject to change):


Assignment Date Due

Homework 1 Feb 1

Homework 2 March 3

Homework 3 April 2

Homework 4 April 18



Lecture material will cover topics beyond those covered in the text and students are responsible for any changes to the assignments or schedule that are presented in class.  Thus, classroom attendance is strongly recommended.  Excessive absence (>3 unexcused absences) will be grounds for loss of points.

Academic Integrity

Unless specifically directed otherwise, all assignments must be completed without assistance from others, except for guidance from Dr. Ferrari and/or guest instructors, and must represent your own work. 

PSU's Academic Integrity Policy (

Our College has also adopted a “Code of Mutual Respect and Cooperation” 



Course Goals and Objectives:

The science of ecology is fundamentally concerned with the scaling up of processes to explain patterns observed at the scale of populations, communities, and ecosystems.  The goals of this course are to introduce the general concepts and vocabulary to allow discussion of biological systems at these various scales and to learn to use those concepts to understand the emergent properties of complex biological systems. 


The objectives of this course are to: 

1. understand the basic principles and limitations of observational study design in ecology

2. quantify how the demographic processes of birth, death, emigration and immigration combine to generate population growth and decline

3. quantify how competitive interactions limit population growth

4. evaluate the relative impact of top-down and bottom-up regulation

5. evaluate the relative impact of intrinsic and extrinsic controls on community structure and stability



Rough Lecture Schedule: 

This schedule of lectures may change as the pace of the course proceeds – you are responsible for keeping up with changes as presented in class.





Jan 13

What is Ecology?

TBH Chpt 1

Jan 15

Methodology: How do we study ecology?

TBH Chpt 1

Jan 17

Evolutionary review

TBH Chpt 2

Jan 20

No Class: Martin Luther King Day


Jan 22

Conditions and Resources

TBH Chpt 3

Jan 24

Populations and their characteristics

TBH Chpt 5.1

Jan 27

Populations: birth and death

TBH Chpt 5.2-3

Jan 29

Populations: birth and death

TBH Chpt 5.3-4

Jan 31

Logistic Growth and Intraspecific Competition I

TBH Chpt 5.5

Feb 3

Logistic Growth and Intraspecific Competition II

TBH Chpt 5.5

Feb 5

Case Study 1


Feb 7

Life History Strategies

TBH Chpt 5.6

Feb 10

Life History Strategies

TBH Chpt 5.6

Feb 12

Case Study 2


Feb 14

Metapopulations I

TBH Chpt 9.3

Feb 17

Metapopulations II

TBH Chpt 9.3

Feb 19

Case Study


Feb 21



Feb 24

Nature and Types of Interspecies Interactions

TBH 6.1 and 7.1

Feb 26

Inter-specific Competition I

TBH 6.2-3

Feb 28

Inter-specific Competition II         

TBH 6.2-3

Mar 3

Case Study 3

TBH 6.3-5

Mar 5

Predation I – individual effects

TBH 7.1-4

Mar 7

Predation I – optimal foraging

TBH 7.4

Mar 17

Predation II – Population Dynamics

TBH 7.5

Mar 19

Predation III – Population Dynamics


Mar 21

Case Study 4


Mar 24

Predation and Communities

TBH 7.5-6 + reading

Mar 26

Parasitism – Life history


Mar 28

Parasitism - Population Dynamics


Mar 31

Parasitism - Control


Apr 2

Case Study  5

TBH Chpt 9.2

Apr 4



Apr 7

Evolutionary Ecology

TBH Chpt 8.1-2

Apr 9

Coevolution – virulence and mutualism

TBH Chpt 8.3-4

Apr 11

Measuring Communities

TBH Chpt 10.1

Apr 14


TBH Chpt 9.4

Apr 16

Dynamics in communities

TBH Chpt 9.5

Apr 18

Case Study 6


Apr 21

Patterns of Species Richness

TBH Chpt 10

Apr 23

Patterns of Species Richness

TBH Chpt 10

Apr 25

Ecosystem Energetics

TBH Chpt 11.1-4

Apr 28

Case Study 7


Apr 30

Applied Ecology: Invasions


May 2