Zoology/Forest/Botany 879


Course Description, Spring Semester 2008







Dr. Monica G. Turner, Zoology Department, 432 Birge Hall

(Tel: 262-2592;




LEVEL: Open to graduate students.



     General Ecology (e.g., Zoology/Botany/Forest-460 or equivalent) is required.

     Familiarity with landscape ecology (e.g., Principles of Landscape Ecology, Forest/Zoology/Botany 565 or equivalent course or experience) is required.

     Some familiarity with geographic information systems (GIS), simulation modeling and basic statistics desirable.


CLASS SIZE: Admission limited to 20 students. 


MEETING TIME: The course will meet on Wednesday and Friday for 90 minutes (10-11:30 am) in either 163 Noland Hall of the New Media Center, Helen C. White Building (computer lab). See syllabus for dates.




Landscape ecology is an area of ecology that has grown tremendously during the past two decades and emphasizes spatial patterning--its causes, development, and importance for ecological processes.  Landscape ecology often focuses on ecological dynamics over large regions.  Students will delve into the current concepts, methods, and applications of landscape ecology through (1) class lectures; (2) reading and discussion of literature reflecting state-of-the-art research in the field; (3) completion of nine hands-on exercises designed to provide experience with some of the quantitative tools of landscape ecology; (4) one take-home exam; and (5) completion of an independent project that allows students to develop or apply these tools and concepts to their own research.


The Advanced Landscape Ecology course emphasizes the current state-of-the-science of landscape ecology and the common quantitative methods used in landscape ecology; it is recommended for students who are conducting research in this area rather than for students who seek an introduction or general overview of the field.  The 2-credit course, Principles of Landscape Ecology (565), taught in alternate springs by Dr. David J. Mladenoff provides an overview of the background and concepts of landscape ecology.  The principles course provides an introduction for students who wish to gain familiarity with landscape ecology.  Knowledge equivalent to what is covered in Principles of Landscape Ecology is assumed as the basis for Advanced Landscape Ecology.  Students who have no background in landscape ecology are strongly recommended to take 565 instead!




Class meetings will generally include either a brief lecture followed by student-lead discussion of assigned readings, or hand-on lab exercises in the computer lab designed to introduce students to the quantitative methods used in landscape ecology.  There are also some extended discussion periods scheduled, and two weeks for oral presentations of the independent projects (those are always fun classes!)


Special this year:  The US-IALE annual meetings will take place at Monona Terrace, April 6-10, 2008. This is quite an opportunity for students to hear about current research and meet the many landscape ecologists who will be attending. For further information, visit:




This course emphasizes readings from the recent primary literature, and typically four papers will be discussed each week. Every student is expected to have read the assignments before class and be prepared to discuss the papers.  Responsibility for leading discussion will be rotated among all students.  Discussion leaders should raise questions or issues to be discussed; be prepared with an evaluation of the significant contributions of the paper; and facilitate discussion among the group (see additional notes below).


Background selections from the Turner et al. (2001) landscape ecology text are also listed for each week, and most lab exercises are found in Gergel and Turner (2002). Both books were ordered by the University Bookstore on State Street and are also available elsewhere (e.g.,


Turner, M. G., R. H. Gardner, and R. V. O’Neill.  2001.  Landscape ecology in theory and practice.  Springer-Verlag, New York. 

Gergel, S. E. and M. G. Turner, editors.  2002. Learning landscape ecology.  Springer-Verlag, New York. 


Electronic readings will be available through your “My UW” web page; go to the Academics heading, find our course, and click on electronic reserves.




Each student will have the opportunity to lead the class discussion of assigned weekly readings.  All students will have read the papers prior to class, so the discussion leader should not provide a detailed review of the paper.  The discussion leader should provide a brief summary of the main topic of the paper, just to remind everyone of which paper is being considered.  Here are some tips for being effective at leading discussion.


i.                     Summarize for yourself some of the important points about the paper.  It’s often useful to have a set of questions that you answer while planning discussion.  For example, consider the following:  What is the main conceptual contribution of the paper?  Why might it be important or influential?  Is it a representative example? Does it propose a new direction or idea?  How does this paper relate to other papers or general concepts with which you are familiar?  Are there any new approaches represented?  Are there any problems with the study?  How does this reflect the current state of the science?


ii.                   Prepare in advance some open-ended questions that you can pose to the group to get the discussion going.  Remember that questions with a “yes” or “no” answer do not facilitate a discussion!  Feel free to call on people if there is silence!


iii.                  Keep the discussion moving by including all members of the group (this means calling on reticent members of the group and gently redirecting individuals who may dominate) and by curtailing discussion that goes off into tangents or dead ends.


iv.                 Try to summarize and synthesize as things go along.  It’s often helpful to use a mechanism like, “So far, we’ve identified the following main contributions of this paper: …. 




Discussions are only effective for all when everyone is prepared and has perspectives to contribute.  Everyone is expected to have read the assignment before class and given thought to the paper’s content and context.  A good strategy for being prepared is to write down a couple of questions or observations about each paper as you are reading it.  This class benefits tremendously from the diverse interests and backgrounds of the students, and we all learn a lot by listening to one another!




A set of hands-on exercises will be assigned to provide students with experience in various aspects of landscape ecology, particularly the quantitative analyses and modeling often used in landscape ecology. Labs will take place during Friday class periods (see syllabus for dates).  Concise written reports will be turned in for each exercise the following week.


Make sure you always read the lab exercise prior to coming to the class session.  You will not usually complete the lab during the time period, but you’ll get going on it.  Write-ups must be short—your gain comes from doing the lab and thinking about it, and I don’t want to make extra busy work.  Rule of thumb should be 2 pages (typed, single space) MAX unless you are told otherwise.  Write-ups are due the following week.  Instructions that are particular for each lab will be given in class.





Project Objectives: Students will use landscape-level theory or approaches in an area of particular interest to them, thereby allowing them to apply what they are learning to their own research.  Ideally, the project will provide an opportunity for students to augment their current research (e.g., thesis or dissertation work).  Students will also gain experience with the primary phases of conducting a research study:  preparation of a proposal; execution of the study; preparation of a paper based on the study; and oral presentation of the results in the format suitable for a scientific meeting.


Topics:  Recognizing that there is likely a wide array of interests represented in the class, the choice of topic for the project is not restricted.  However, approval of a student’s selection is required.  Samples of projects might be:  (1) analyses of spatial pattern of vegetation or land use in a study landscape; (2) synthesis of literature on how an organism responds to changes in habitat heterogeneity, with development of field-testable hypotheses, recommendations for conservation, or reserve design; (3) development of a model to address an interaction between pattern and process; (4) preparation of a management plan for a large heterogeneous landscape.


Format for Project Proposals:  Proposals must be typewritten, double spaced with one-inch margins, with a 3-page maximum length excluding references (less length is acceptable and encouraged if well presented).  The following should be clearly covered:  Introduction/Background; Objectives/Questions; Methods; and Expected Results.  Proposals will be due in the fourth week of the semester.


Format for Project Reports:  Reports must be typewritten, double spaced with one-inch margins, and will be due at the assigned final exam time.  Projects should not exceed 12 pages of text excluding references, figures, and tables.  The format should follow that used for the journal Landscape Ecology.  Instructions to authors will be given to the students. 


Guidelines for Oral Presentations:  Presentations should be 10 minutes in length, to be followed by a 5-minute question period.  You should time your talk in advance, as you would in preparation for a presentation at a scientific meeting.  You may use Powerpoint. Make your presentation as you would for a scientific meeting; that is, provide general context, clearly state the question, describe your methods, present results, and draw conclusions.  Presentations will be done in class during the final two weeks of the semester. The ‘audience’ will also provide feedback to each presenter.


Due Dates:  See the course syllabus for due dates for project proposals, final papers, and presentation dates.




Grades will be based on the laboratory exercises (30%), class participation and leading discussion (15%), take-home midterm exam (20%), and the final project (35% total:  proposal 5%, oral presentation 5%, written report 25%). 




Coffee and snacks are the key discussion lubricant for graduate classes that meet in the morning, and we have a tradition of this in the Advanced Landscape Ecology class.  Monica will provide the coffee; traditionally, we’ve had each student sign up for a day to bring a snack for each of the non-laboratory classes.  Competition for the best tasting treat can be fierce!  Help from the class to clean up the coffee pot and the room at the end of each class period is encouraged and appreciated.  We are expected to leave the departmental meeting room in better order than we found it.  Thanks for you cooperation in this!