Spring 2008
4 Credits 

Prerequisites: Ecology and either Animal or Plant Physiology, or Permission of instructors

Lecture:  T,TH 9:25-10:40
Friends 204
Discussion: W 12-12:50
Room: CNS 163

Co-taught by:
Jason Hamilton Andy Smith
252 Ctr for Natural Sciences 155Ctr for Natural Sciences
274-1439 274-3975
Office Hours:  M, W 11-12 Office Hours:  M 3:30-4:30; Th 10:40-11:30

Both of us have open door policies.  Feel free to stop by either of our offices to talk at any time. We may be busy, so please do not be offended if you are asked to come back later. If the door is closed, please do not knock.  E-mail is also a good way to contact either of us, and any questions you might have are welcome.  However, please do not turn in assignments by e-mail.

Course Description:

Ecophysiology deals with the function and performance of animals and plants in their environment.  This course will integrate ideas from ecology and global change research down to physiology and molecular biology.  From this we will gain an understanding of the physiological mechanisms by which organisms confront constraints in the environment.  Specifically we will discuss adaptations to extremes in the physical, chemical, and biotic environment such as high and low temperature (deserts, arctic), moisture (rainforests, wetlands, ocean), light (alpine, caves, deep ocean) and nutrients (desert, lakes).  We will explore the latest research through readings and analysis of the primary literature.

The goals of this course are the following:

1. To understand how organisms solve problems posed by the environment
2. To understand the major points of control that organisms have in dealing with the environment
3. To understand that plants and animals solve similar problems in similar ways
4. To develop your familiarity with modern research approaches and to develop an understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge
5. To develop your analytical skills through application to complex experimental methods and data
6. To develop your ability to communicate complex biological ideas effectively
Text:  There is no required text for this class.  Most of your reading will consist of primary research papers.  Since most texts deal with either plants or animals (not both), they would be used primarily as reference.  We also have texts that you may sign out for short periods.  Reading the primary scientific literature is a skill that improves with practice.  We want you to spend your time analyzing scientific research, and no text can substitute for the original scientific literature.

Course requirements

Attendance:  Because of the interactive nature of the class, attendance is expected.  If you will be unable to attend a class, notify one of us in advance (We check e-mail and voice-mail regularly).  If you do not, it will count against your class participation grade, as well as losing credit for in-class assignments that day.

Class participation:  You will be expected to contribute regularly to the class.  Anyone who is present every day and is involved in the class will get 100% of the points.  Deductions will only be made for unexcused absences, failure to contribute to group or class discussions, or for unacceptable work on informal writings.

Review paper:  You will write an in-depth review paper on an ecophysiological topic.  These papers are typically ten pages or longer, and typically cite 10-20 primary sources.  They will be written in stages, with each step contributing to the final grade for the paper.

Other writing assignments:  There will be regular, shorter writing assignments.  The assignments will include graded writings that may involve analyzing or commenting on a scientific paper, planning experiments, or reading and commenting on the drafts of other students’ work.  They will also include informal writings that will not be graded, but will count into the class participation grade.

Quizzes:  There will be about six quizzes throughout the semester.  The quizzes will involve two types of questions, those that test your understanding of basic background material, and those that test your ability to analyze experimental work.  You will not be expected to memorize the details of any particular experimental study.

Final:  During the final exam time slot, there will be a discussion of your review papers, rather than a test.


Quizzes 30%
Review paper 30%
Written assignments 30%
Class participation 10%

Grades will be based on your achievement relative to the six goals identified above.  For each of the goals relevant to the assignment you will be graded on a scale of 0 – 3 as follows:

0 = No evidence of achieving goal.  The work was either not done, or done so poorly that one cannot discern any progress towards achieving the goal.

1 = Approaches goal.  The guidelines of the assignment were followed and the work shows evidence of progress towards meeting the goal.  Nevertheless, it may be unclear, partially incorrect, or reflect misunderstandings.

2 = Meets goal.  The work is performed with no errors or misunderstandings, but does not show strong evidence of analytical ability.  For example, it may be more simplistic, literal and descriptive with less analysis, integration, sophistication or rigor.

3 = Exceeds goal.  Performs the task at the level expected of an experienced scientist.  There are no significant errors or misunderstandings, the work is clear and comprehensive, and it demonstrates sophisticated thinking (insight, analytical ability, integration etc…).

These grades correlate loosely to letter grades as follows:
“A” – meets or exceeds most goals (note that it is would be extraordinarily rare to exceed most goals)
“B” – meets most goals
“C” – Approaches most goals
“F” – No evidence of achieving goals
Students with disabilities:

Accommodations will be made for students with disabilities following the college’s procedures as outlined in the Student handbook.

Academic Honesty:

All the work in this class must be your own, unless stated otherwise.  Confirmed instances of academic misconduct will result in a zero for that assignment/quiz and referral to the school judiciary system.  Please refer to the Student Handbook for a detailed description of the policies regarding student academic conduct.  If you have a question about what constitutes plagiarism, refer to the following web site:

Lecture topics  (Note that this is not a fixed schedule but a forecast of the pace at which we will cover the material.  It will change.)

Unit I – Eating

Week 1.  Introduction, Carbon gain
Week 2.  Photosynthesis – control points and trade-offs
Week 3.  Environments with different CO2 and O2 levels
Weeks 4+ 5.  Resource use in energy rich and energy poor environments (sun vs. shade plants, endothermy, adaptations to different diets, polar environments)

Unit 2 – Temperature
Week 6.  Why temperature matters.  Energy budgets (heat balance) – control points
Week 7.  Heat balance in desert organisms
Week 8.  Mechanisms of acclimation to temperature change (deserts, intertidal, temperate forests)
Week 9.  Freezing environments, cryoprotectants in different organisms

Unit 3 – Water
Week 10.  Introduction of water balance – control points
Week 11  Water balance in the desert
Week 12.  Water balance in the desert
Week 13.  Severe water loss
Week 14.  High salt environments

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Page maintained and updated by Jason Hamilton, Nancy Pierce and Andy Smith.
Last updated 1/21/08