BIOL2121 INTRODUCTION TO ECOLOGY
Dr. Carolyn S. Bentivegna
208 McNulty Hall
|Credit hours: 4
This course will teach the basic principles of ecology that underlie Earth's life-support system. Laboratory exercises will give students hands-on experience. They will learn how to run a bioassay and use common pieces of scientific equipment such as a balance, pH meter, and spectrophotometer. Current problems in environmental health will be emphasized including the ozone layer, introduced species, landfills, and use of fossil fuels. This course does not fulfill any requirements for students majoring in the sciences.
Ecology of a Changing Planet, 2nd edition, by Mark B. Bush (Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ) 2000
Chemistry in Context, 2nd edition, edited by W.J. Stratton, D.M. Bunce, A.T. Schwartz, R.G. Silberman, C.L. Stanitske, and A.P. Zipp, (The American Chemical Society) 1997
2 lecture exams 40%
5 quizzes 15%
1 paper 10%
2 laboratory exams 20%
The overall goal of this assignment is for the student to write a newspaper article for a laymans journal about some current ecological problem. The student may choose any problem as long as it is relevant to the course. The first part of this assignment is to write an outline of the article and a brief summary of the relevant scientific information that prepares you to write the article. Use both internet and library resources to obtain the information. The outline and summary will be handed in and graded. The second part of the assignment will be the completed article, which will receive a second grade. Each part will be worth 50 points. The newspaper article should be no more than four typed pages, 12 point font, and doubled spaced.
Students will maintain a laboratory notebook that will contain all of their laboratory work. For each exercise, the notebook will include at least the following: purpose, materials and methods, results including any tables or graphs, conclusions, and answers to any study questions. Notebooks will be handed in and graded on a weekly basis.
Week Chapter Topic
1 1, 20 Early earth development, ozone formation
2 2 Natural Selection and biodiversity
3 3, 23 Energy flow in biological systems, energy resources
4 4, 21, Climate and biomes, global warming
5 5 Ecosystems and productivity
6 6, 22 Aquatic ecosystems, effects of acid rain
7 7, 13 Populations and natural resources
8 Exam I
9 9, 14 Predator & parasites, ecological perspectives of disease
10 10, 18 Species and communities, habitat fragmentation
11 11, 19 Ecological succession, preserving biodiversity
12 12, 17 Development of the tropics vs. biodiversity
13 15, 26 Ecological impact of feeding the world
14 16, 25 Pollution and environmental legislation
15 Exam II
Week 1 The scientific method
Week 2 Analysis of soils from different biomes
Week 3 Plants as the primary producer
Week 4 Field collection of pond microorganisms
Week 5 Evaluation of pond microorganisms and their biodiversity
Week 6 Population effects on endangered species (computer lab)
Week 7 Exam I
Week 8 Comparison of the energy content of fuels
Set up of artificial landfill experiment
Week 9 Buffers and pH
Week 10 Preparation and properties of pollutant gases
Set up of frog egg development experiment
Week 11 Classification and identification of common plastics
Week 12 Evaluation of artificial landfill and frog egg experiments
Week 13 Using bioassays to evaluate the toxicity of pollutants
Week 14 Exam II
Individual Laboratory Descriptions and Objectives
Week one will include an introduction to the course and instructors expectations. It will also include an introduction to the scientific method. Students will first read through an experiment on the effect of fertilizer on plant growth in order to learn about the formation of a hypothesis and experimental design. Next, they will develop their own experiment using simple equipment like tape measures and bathroom scales.
-To learn the different parts of the scientific method.
-To learn how to develop a hypothesis and set up an experiment to test it.
-To comprehend the concepts of a control and experimental groups.
-To learn how to record, analyze, and graph data.
Week two will focus on the concept of biomes and soil analysis. Important concepts will include factors that give rise to a biome including different soil make-ups. In lab, students will analyze soil collected from different places in the country (NJ, KY, CA, depending on the goodwill of friends) or from different places in NJ (Pine Barrens, shore, farmland). Analyses will include soil texture, organic content, pH, and calcium and iron content.
-To be able to define biome and explain the factors that give rise to different types.
-To learn the different components of soil and their contribution to its fertility.
-To gain a better understanding of how soil components from different biomes influence plant growth.
-To learn how to perform relatively simple chemical tests and use a pH meter.
-To gain experience on how to set up an experiment.
-To learn how to make experimental observations and objectively collect and evaluate data.
Week three will focus on the importance of plants as producers in the foodweb. Important concepts will include the different tropic levels, foodchain versus foodweb, and an energy pyramid. Students will investigate and analyze the starch content in leaves from different types of plants in the laboratory. Examples of leaves might include those from a spider plant (variegated leaf), celery (dicot) and timothy (monocot). The effects of photosynthesis on starch production will be investigated by analyzing the leaf of a spider plant that has been covered with tape for a week. Students will also investigate the light absorbing properties of chlorophyll. To do this, chlorophyll will be extracted from some of the different leaves and analyzed on a spectrophotometer.
-To understand the basic components of a foodweb and the role plants play in it.
-To understand the basis of an energy pyramid.
-To understand the connection between chlorophyll, photosynthesis, and food production.
-To learn how compounds like starch can be analyzed.
-To investigate the food value of different types of plant leaves.
-To gain a basic understanding of how a spectrophotometer works.
On week four, students will collect samples of pond water from the Great Swamp. Samples will be collected from various niches such as off aquatic vegetation, surface scum, or the top layer of sediment. Students will collect data on the sampling sites such as pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen content, flow, and substrate type. Upon returning to lab, the samples will be set up for culturing so as to maintain them for the next laboratory session.
-To gain experience in field sampling and site evaluation.
-To gain experience in using various pieces of field equipment and chemical tests.
-To learn how to set up microorganism cultures.
-To obtain samples for the next laboratory exercise.
The focus of week five will be the concepts of biodiversity and niches. The impact of habitat loss and introduced species will be discussed as well as the use of diversity indexes as a means of measuring environmental impact. Students will use microscopes to identify and count the microorganisms collected at last weeks sampling sites. They will then use statistics in order to determine whether there are significant differences between sites. They will also apply diversity indexes to this data in order to evaluate water quality at each site. Finally, students will correlate site characteristics with the types and numbers of organisms found there and design graphs that represent their findings.
-To understand the concepts and importance of biodiversity and niches.
-To learn how to use diversity indexes to evaluate environmental health.
-To learn basic skills in organism identification.
-To learn how to use a microscope.
-To gain experience in how to represent data in graphs.
The focus of week six will be the concepts of population and population density. Students will use a computer program produced by Applied Biomathematics. It presents problems that involve the effects of population density and abundance of natural resources on endangered species. Students will fill out a work sheet during class that will help them explore these problems.
-To understand the concepts and importance of population, population density, and natural resources.
-To study the impact of these factors on endangered species
-To learn how to use this type of computer program.
Students will take their first laboratory exam covering material in weeks 1-5.
The utility of hydrocarbon fuels, as energy sources, will be investigated on week eight. Students will compare propane, propanol, butanol, and kerosene as a means of understanding the relationships between carbon-oxygen content and heat generating capacity. Experiments will involve burning the fuels in "alcohol lamps" and measuring the changes in water temperature produced by their heat. The data gathered will be used to calculate the calories generated by each fuel. Important concepts will include mass, calories, and specific heat as well as environmental impacts of fossil fuels.
During this laboratory, students will also set up artificial landfills. The landfills will consist of alternating layers of soil and "garbage". Garbage will consist of environmentally relevant materials such as Styrofoam packing material, plastic bags, aluminum foil, and brown paper bags. Organic materials such as popcorn and wood chips will also be included. Water will be added to one of two duplicate landfills in order to evaluate the effect of moisture. The amount of degradation will be determined by calculating the approximate surface area of the garbage before and after treatment.
-To learn about the global effects of burning fossil fuels such as the greenhouse effect.
-To learn the chemical structures of various liquid fuels.
-To gain a basic understanding of carbon content and heat generating capacity.
-To reinforce chemical concepts of mass, calories, and specific heat.
-To gain more experience in using scientific equations.
Week nine will focus on pH and buffers in the context of how acid rain affects aquatic systems. Besides these two concepts, the terms molarity, solution, concentration, and titration will also be discussed. In lab, students will make up some of the solutions required for a titration experiment. They will then titrate samples containing a pH 5 indicator (because many aquatic ecosystems decline at this pH) with a weak solution of sulfuric acid. Samples to be titrated will include a sodium bicarbonate buffer (pH 7.0), ocean water, and water from a local, fresh water pond. Students will then evaluate the buffering capacity of each by calculating the approximate concentration of carbonate.
-To learn the terms: pH, buffer, solution, concentration, moles, molarity, and titration.
-To learn how to make up a molar solution.
-To understand how buffers work.
-To learn how to calculate a solutions concentration using the titration method.
-To understand that different aquatic systems have different buffering capacities.
Students will investigate the properties of two common air pollutants, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), on week ten. Lecture will present sources of these pollutants as well as their ecological and health consequences, especially the impact of acid rain. Gases will be generated in lab using NaSO3 and NaNO2, respectively. They will be tightly contained within sealed plastic bags. Twenty-four well plates will be set up with six standard solutions representing pH 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, as wells as two wells containing distilled water. Universal indicator will be added to all of these wells so that the pH can be determined. Each gas will be withdrawn from the bags using plastic transfer pipettes and then expelled over one of the distilled water wells. The resulting color will be compared to prepared standards so as to determine the pH caused by the gases. Effects of these gases on microorganisms will also be investigated using Blepharisma. Organisms will be place into one well and observed under a microscope before and after the gases are expelled over it.
During this lab, students will set up an experiment that investigates the effect of pH on frog development. The pHs will be 5, 5.5, 6, 6.5, and 7. Eggs will be observed and staged biweekly.
-To learn the sources and environmental impacts of air pollutants such as SO2 and NO2.
-To learn how acid rain in formed.
-To learn what a standard curve is and how to use one.
-To observe the impact of these gases on aquatic organisms.
Plastics will be the focus of week eleven. Lecture will cover the different types of plastics in terms of their chemistry and environmental relevance in terms of waste and recycling. Biodegradable plastics will be discussed in particular. For the lab, samples of known and unknown plastics will be identified and classified by four types of tests. The first test uses liquids of different densities to determine the relative densities of the plastics provided. The second test involves melting the plastics over a Bunsen burner then cooling it. In the third test, the plastic will be burned in the hood and the color and amount of smoke generated recorded. Finally, the fourth test involves inserting a hot copper wire into the plastic then observing the color produced in a flame. Based on the results for the known samples, students will devise a scheme for identifying each type of plastic and then use their scheme to identify an unknown.
-To learn about the different types of plastics and the environmental hazard they present.
-To understand how standard tests can be used to classify and identify substances.
-To learn how to develop a testing scheme for the identification of unknown samples.
-To identify an unknown plastic.
On week twelve, the results of both the artificial landfill and frog egg experiments will be analyzed. For the landfill experiment, students will measure the surface area of the remaining garbage. These data will be evaluated based on the type of garbage and whether or not water was added. For the egg experiment, students will record the numbers of survivors in each test group and evaluated the impact of pH on the developmental rate. Students will graph the data for both experiments in a way that they think best represents their findings.
-To learn how to collect data and graph it in a meaningful manner.
-To observe the rate at which different substances degrade.
-To make a connection between the chemical make-up of a substance and its ability to degrade in a landfill.
-To observe the influence of water on degradation rate and understand why its important.
-To observe the effect of pH on seed germination.
-To consider the impact of acid rain on biodiversity.
Week thirteen will focus on how the impact of toxic chemicals on the environment can be assessed using bioassays. Lecture will cover what a bioassay is and give examples of some different types. It will also present background on the need for regulating the release of certain substances into the environment and the validity of using bioassays to set those regulations. Students will evaluate the toxicity of different household products using the Microtox bioassay developed by Dr. Kenneth Thomulka. Examples of products include drain cleaner, mouthwash, toilet-bowl cleaner, automobile antifreeze, dishwashing liquid, and a herbicide. The Microtox bioassay is a standardized assay commonly used by industry to evaluate the toxicity of their products and/or wastes. It utilizes bioluminescent bacteria where by reduced bioluminescence correlates with increased toxicity. Students will make up serial dilutions of three of the products provided, then the degree of bioluminescence will be determine at each dilution. Data for all of the products will be collected and compared in order to determine the most and least toxic substance. Students will graph concentration-response curves and consider the importance of concentration.
-To learn what a bioassay is and how to carry one out.
-To learn a little about how governmental agencies use information from bioassays to regulate the release of industrial wastes.
-To understand some of the weaknesses involved in using bioassays to assess the environmental impact of toxicants.
-To learn what serial dilutions are and how to prepare one.
-To learn the concept of concentration-response.
-To make a connection between everyday, household products and environmental toxicity.
During week fourteen, students will take their second laboratory exam.
1. S.B. Billatos and N.A. Basaly, Green Technology and Design for the Environment, 1st edition, Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis, 1997.
2. W.P. Cunningham, Understanding Our Environment: An Introduction, 1st edition, Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Communications, Inc., 1994.
3. B.M. Francis, Toxic Substances in the Environment, 1st edition, New York, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994
4. E.J. Kormondy, Concepts of Ecology, 4th edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.
5. E.P. Odum, Ecology and Our Endangered Life-Support Systems, 2nd edition, Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 1993.
6. C.H. Southwick, Global Ecology, 1st edition, Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 1985.
7. P.D. Stiling, Ecology: Theories and Applications, 2nd edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.
8. L. Underwood, Mid Atlantic Regional Environmental Issues Manual, Orlando, FL, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1993.