Environmental Biology - the Biome Approach

Nature of the Sequence

Some History

Biology 102 - The Biome Approach

The Text

The Labs - Biology 106 & 111


Nature of the Sequence

Biology 102, Environmental Biology, is the second half of two separate linked courses (sequences). It follows Geology 101, Environmental Geology, as part of the Environmental Geology/Biology Sequence. It is also the second half of the Biology 101/Biology 102 sequence.  Biology 102 is a key course for a lot of students, and making sure there is adequate linkage between it and the courses that precede it is no easy task. We want you to see explicitly how the course is structured and how it links to Geology  and Biology 101, and that is what this discussion will attempt to do.

Some History:

We also used to have a year-long sequence for Biology majors. This course went into a lot more detail on a lot more topics than the Biology 101-102 sequence does. We decided to combine the two sequences into one sequence for majors and non-majors. The combined sequence is the Biology 101-Biology 102 sequence, which grew out of the old Biology-Chemistry and Geology-Biology sequences.  In the reworking of the sequences we had to make a number of compromises. The most obvious one concerns the level at which we approach the subject. With both majors and non-majors in the class, we need to balance the needs of both groups. The addition of the Environmental Science major  also  affected this balance as well.  

With the new curriculum in place for 2001-2002, the old sequences we officially done away with.  Still, there is value in having courses linked together as topics can be developed more gradually and completely.  You can imagine the difficulties in doing this for a group of students coming from 2 different classes (Biology 101 or Geology 101) and a class which combines majors and non majors.  We have decided to work on this problem by separating the labs.  Students who take Biology 101 and Biology 105 (the lab) in the fall should take Biology 102 and Biology 106 in the spring.  Students coming from Geology 101 should take Biology 102 and the Biology 111 lab.  Currently, the Environmental Geology/Biology sequence serves two main groups of students: Environmental Science/Studies majors and education majors.  Towards this end, the Biology 111 lab is reorganized to stand alone, without the introduction of the first semester Biology Lab, Biology 105.

In all of the introductory courses, we especially tried to hold down the number of new terms to the absolute minimum it takes to bring you to the point where you can intelligently follow articles in the popular press on scientific topics. We don't expect you to be biology majors, or to have an extensive background in biology or chemistry. We do need you to be active learners and really apply yourselves. By the way, if you want more biology, there are a number of additional courses you could take in the biology department with the training you receive in Biology 102. You might want to learn about plants or animals and elect to take botany or zoology at a later date, for instance.

Biology 102 - The Environmental Problem/Biome Approach

Biology 101 is organized on a theme from large to small, that is, from ecosystems to DNA. Biology 102 also has a distinctive organization based  largely on environmental problems and the major biomes of the world. This unique approach has some advantages over more traditional approaches, but it does take some getting used to. I hope you will read through this next section so that you'll know what to expect and so that you'll get as much as possible from the course.

We start the course with a review of biomes and ecosystems. 

The remaining sections are either organized around environmental problems (such as deforestation, desertification, ozone depletion, etc.) or biomes (deserts, wetlands, lakes, streams, etc.).

A biome, strictly speaking, is terrestrial region where climatic conditions favor the development of a distinct plant community. That's a fancy way of saying that in warm, wet regions you get tropical rain forests, or that in dry areas you get deserts. You are already familiar with these biomes, I'm sure. We are also going to include some aquatic habitats, such as oceans, lakes, rivers, coral reefs, etc. as "biomes".

The climatic conditions that face the plants and animals in each biome also force these organisms to make unique adaptations to survive under the local conditions. These adaptations, in turn, provide excellent starting points for further discussion of how plants and animals solve basic biological problems. For instance, a discussion of deserts would not be complete without an examination of how plants and animals conserve water, and this in turn leads us into a more general consideration of excretory and osmoregulatory mechanisms. Likewise, studying the cold tundra leads to a discussion of how organisms regulate temperature. So, the biome scheme of organization will also lead us through the physiology (how organisms function) of the biomes' inhabitants.

Each biome can, in a similar fashion, serve to highlight environmental problems. The polar regions seem to be a natural point to discuss ozone depletion, while temperate forests lend themselves to an examination of the problems caused by acid rain. As a result, when we study each biome, we will also study aspects of physiology which are most obviously exhibited in that biome, as well as environmental problems most closely linked to that biome. In addition, each biome will also serve to illustrate certain ecological principles that are particularly noticeable in that biome. An example of this would be linking the concept of mutualistic symbiosis to the coral reef, the ecosystem which is based on a symbiotic relationship (between the corals and their photosynthetic dinoflagellate endosymbionts).

Each of the instructors teaching the course has his or her own way of moving through the discussion of the biomes. Some start by describing the biome, then examining the biological and environmental aspects in turn. Others may start by using the biological or environmental aspects as a framework to explore the biome. Yet another approach is to use an environmental issue as a case study that explores the other issues as they come up.

The Text

One potential problem of the biome approach comes when the textbook is considered. In an effort to keep your costs down, we have decided to use one text for Biology 101, 102,  and Biology 131. This keeps your costs down, but it should be obvious that requiring one book to cover all these topics may be a stretch. The stretch is most obvious this semester. The book is good, but it is not organized in a biome approach (actually, there are no books we know of that use that approach), and it is a bit thin on environmental issues. This means that we have to jump around in the text, and that we have to use a supplement. Again, to keep costs down, we have worked with the publisher of the supplement to provide you with an edited version of a textbook. The supplement you purchase has only specific parts of the larger text, and this cuts its cost by about 1/2. The quality of the illustrations, however, suffers somewhat in the process. Overall, however, between the textbook and the supplement, you have, at your fingertips, very useful references. With the addition of references in the library and easily available over the Internet, you should be able to answer any questions that might come up as you work your way through the course.

The Labs - Biology 106 or 111 

Lab is your hands-on time to explore. It is also a good time to ask the instructor questions and to work with your classmates. We budget 3 hours for each of the labs, although you will find that some of them do not require that long, particularly if you come to lab prepared (read the lab ahead of time) and if you work efficiently and carefully. One of our goals in the lab is to help teach teamwork, and you will also find that you will learn more, and work more efficiently, if you learn to cooperate in teams.

Overall, there are two basic types of labs. Several are designed to introduce you to living organisms - plants, animals, fungi, etc., as well as how they function. The other type of lab is devoted to experimentation. We have developed the labs and the lab manuals ourselves. Again, this saves you money, but it also allows us to integrate the lab much more closely into the overall course. Still, some of you might be disappointed to find that we don't move right from a discussion in lecture to a demonstration in lab. In order to get things to fit into a year-long course, we had to make sure the lab and the lecture complemented each other, not continued each other. It would be great to move from a discussion of the rain forest to an experiment on mineral leaching in the soil, but we simply don't have time to do that. The lab isn't an extension of the lecture, but rather another part of the course, where, for the most part, different concepts will be explored, and the basic techniques of science will be learned.

For the first type of lab, it is important that you complete the pre-lab assignment. This means going beyond filling in the blanks on the assignment page. It means reading the appropriate material in the lab manual and the textbooks. It means reading all the instructions for the lab as well. If you find yourself simply turning to the pre-lab and paging back and forth between it and the textbook in order to find and write down the "answer", rest assured YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG AND WILL BE MISERABLE AS A RESULT, SINCE YOU WILL NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON, GET FRUSTRATED, HAVE TO STAY LATE, SPILL STUFF ON YOUR CLOTHES, ETC. Really. A little time spent following the instructions, reading, and trying to understand what is going on will help make your lab experience worthwhile. Cutting corners on preparation will make you one frustrated, unhappy camper.  If, after doing the reading, you don't understand, that's your chance to ask a question and come to an understanding.

Don't get me wrong. We really like you, but please, read the lab beforehand.

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