Tropical Forest Ecology and Biogeochemistry

Fall Semester 2010




Class time:  Friday, 10:00 - 12:00 pm

Location:   Biosciences West, Room 302 (note: NOT Social Sciences, Rm 136, as listed in catelog)

Credit hours:   2 units

Professor:  Scott Saleska

Course Description:  This graduate reading seminar will explore current questions in tropical forest ecology and biogeochemistry, including:  why are tropical forests are so diverse? Do new datasets from a network of large forest plots support or contradict theories of scaling in vegetation?  Are intact tropical forests sequestering carbon due to excess atmospheric CO2 and does this balance the losses from anthropogenic deforestation?  Will Amazonian tropical forests suffer large-scale die-back as a consequence of future climate change, and does evidence from the past climate changes provide evidence about the future?  The course is structured around weekly readings, and instructor and student presentations and discussion of the readings. 

Organization and requirements:

(1) Ecology 596L will be run largely as a seminar. The first meeting will be organizaional, but all other class meetings will be run as a discussion. The instructor and each student will lead one discussion, but everyone is expected to participate in all discussions. You are strongly encouraged to ask questions if you do not understand something -- the class participants will likely come from several disciplines and what is obvious in one discipline is not necessarily obvious to others. But come prepared, both by reading the material and thinking carefully about it.

(2) The readings for this class consist of readings from the primary literature. All students must read the required material before each class.

(3) Each student will lead a discussion on a topic and readings -- either from the suggested list, or a topic of their choosing, selected in consultation with the instructor. Students will conduct a literature search on the chosen topic and make two or three key references available to the entire group at least one week in advance of the presentation. These papers will form the basis of a general discussion and will be available as pdf files on the class website. Each student should meet me at least once before their presentation (ideally two weeks in advance) to discuss and clarify the readings and scope of the topic.

(4) When leading a discussion, students should prepare an overview of the general topic as well as an overview of the specific papers. This overview (which may be in the form of a powerpoint presentation) should include an outline of key points, tables or illustrations, a bibliography of relevant papers, and a list of questions to generate discussion. This overview should be xeroxed and made available for all participants at the beginning of each session.

(5) Each student will write a review of the scholarly literature in the topic corresponding to his or her presentation. This review should include the papers that were discussed in class, but may go beyond those. Please note that a well-written literature review is intended not merely to passively catalog what is known about a topic, but to clarify the most important questions facing a field, or the key unresolved debates, and what specific kinds of theoretical or empirical progress is needed to answer those questions or resolve those debates. Also note that a review need not take a neutral stance in a debate; indeed the best reviews are often forceful arguments for a particular resolution (or proposing a new resolution) of existing debates or dilemmas. Such reviews effectively marshall the available evidence for their position, but also lay out what new tests or observations would most effectively challenge that position. So be creative! For example, consider taking a perspective different from the one you think you hold, and see how far you can push it. The literature review is intended to be an opportunity for each person to express what s/he thinks is the most important next step needed to make progress in tropical ecology or biogeochemistry.