Current Topics in Conservation Biology

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== EEB 5370 ==
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== EEB 5370: Conservation trade-offs (Spring 2012) ==
 
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'''Topic:'''  Climate Change and Conservation Biology
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'''Credits:''' 1
 
'''Credits:''' 1
  
'''Instructor:''' David Wagner and John Silander (contact: david.wagner[AT]uconn.edu)  
+
'''Instructor:''' [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/people/birdlab/elphick.html Chris Elphick] (email: chris.elphick[AT]uconn.edu)
  
'''Meeting time:''' Friday @ 2
+
'''Meeting time:''' 5-6 Monday
  
'''Location:''' Bamford Conference Room, TLS 171B
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'''Location:''' Bamford (TLS 179)
  
This semester we will focus on aspects of climate change relevant to conservation and biodiversity.  Principal themes will include collecting and evaluating biological evidence for climate change, predicting consequences of climate change, conservation planning, and climate adaptation.  Approximately one-third of the class meetings will be committed to issues surrounding communication, disinformation, and public perception regarding climate change.  We may view Randy Olsen’s “Sizzle” and other topical mediaThere will be no assigned text.  Prior to or over first half of the semester students are encouraged to read relevant sections of the [http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/contents.html IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007]. Dr. Bruce Kahn, Senior Investment Analyst for Climate Change, Deutsche Bank, an EEB UConn alumnus will lead our discussion on 18 February. On 28 April we will hear from Adam Whelchel (The Nature Conservancy) and Bill Hyatt (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection) on climate change adaptation and conservation planning for the state of Connecticut.
+
The topic of this seminar course varies from year to year depending on what is "current" in conservation biology and what students in the program are interested in focusing onUsually we pick a recent book or selected readings focused around a specific theme in order to get a deeper understanding of the topic than would be normal in a survey course. If you have suggestions for future topics, please let me know.
  
The course is required for students in the EEB BS/MS program, but is open to all graduate studentsA few senior (and occasionally junior) undergraduates also take the course every year. Post-docs, adjuncts, and (even) faculty are welcome to join in the fun.
+
This year, the topic will be trade-offs in conservation.  Given the many competing priorities and limited resources that managers face, effectively addressing this topic is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing conservation biologistsWe will read and discuss the book [http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1405193832.html Trade-offs in Conservation: Deciding What to Save] (Leader-Williams et al. 2010, Wiley-Blackwell), which addresses this topic from a diversity of perspectives (authors include those with backgrounds in economics, anthropology, the law, etc., as well as ecologists).
  
== Schedule ==
+
The course is required for students in the EEB BS/MS program, but is open to all graduate students.  A few senior (and occasionally junior) undergraduates also take the course every year, and I encourage you to do so if you are interested.  To be eligible as an undergraduate, you should have at least a B average and should talk to me first.  Undergraduates will need a permission number to enroll.  The course is limited to ~12-15 students each year and I occasionally have to turn people away, but we try to accommodate as many people as possible.  Priority is given to students in the BS/MS program who need the course to graduate.  Post-docs, adjuncts, and (even) faculty are welcome to join in the fun.
  
This semester's schedule is posted below. Two students will lead the discussion each week (see next section for tips on leading effectively).  If you have EEBedia editing rights (i.e., if you are an EEB graduate student) you can go in yourself and add readings/links for your seminar.  If you do not, email David Wagner the links, pdfs, or other material that you would like to see posted.
+
== Schedule (subject to change) ==
 +
 
 +
A tentative schedule is posted below. Everyone should sign up to lead the discussion one week (see next section for tips on leading effectively).  If you have EEBedia editing rights (i.e., if you are an EEB graduate student) then you can go in yourself and sign up to present.  If you do not, email me and tell me when you'd like to lead so that I can put you on the schedule.  If you are flexible on your topic/date, then include a note at the bottom of the schedule so that others know they can move things around.  DO NOT MOVE ANYONE TO A DIFFERENT SLOT WITHOUT ASKING THEM FIRST.  After the first meeting, I will assign weeks to anyone who has not yet signed up.
  
 
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{| border="1" cellpadding="2"
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!width="100"|Who
 
!width="100"|Who
 
!width="300"|Topic
 
!width="300"|Topic
!width="170"|Readings
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!width="170"|Reading
 
!width="420"|Notes
 
!width="420"|Notes
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Jan 28 ||John & Wagner ||IPCC ||http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/spm.html ||Executive summary for policy makers.
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|23 Jan || Chris E. || What to save? || Ch 1  ||  
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Feb 4 ||Summer & Kelly ||Physical evidence for climate change ||http://www.pnas.org/content/106/51/21527.full; http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/images/stories/papers/originals/surface_temp.pdf ||Read PNAS. Skim the other document, but make sure to read pages 6 and 7.
+
|30 Jan || Chris F. || Setting priorities || Ch 2 || [https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B5xwAKffMAPhZjQ4ZjRiZGUtMjVlNi00OTgzLWFjNWYtOGI1NGYwMmJhNzA3 questions to think about]
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Feb 11 ||Yingying & Allie ||Paleo-records of climate change || http://www.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/662.short; http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2011/01/12/science.1197175.abstract || Two other ancillary links: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch6.html;
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|6 Feb ||  || Identifying global priority areas || Ch 3 ||
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/paleo.html
+
   
+
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Feb 18 ||Dr. Bruce Kahn ||Climate change and financial risk management  ||  ||  
+
|13 Feb || Heidi  || Ecosystem services and human well-being || Ch 4 ||  
 
|-
 
|-
|Feb 25 ||Brigette & Jenica ||Biological evidence for climate change ||  ||  
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|20 Feb ||Chris Field  || Defining & measuring success || Ch 5 ||  
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Mar 4 ||Sarah R & Johanna ||Greenhouse gasses: sources, sinks and dynamics ||  ||  
+
|27 Feb || Kasey  || What matters? Inverts and Animal Welfare || Ch 6,7 ||  
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Mar 11 || || NO MEETING: SPRING BREAK || ---- ||  
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|5 Mar || Katie || Protection, use, sustainability || Ch 8,13  ||  
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Mar 18 ||Adam & Purbita  || Climate modeling and predictions of future changes || ---- ||  
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|12 Mar || ---- || NO MEETING: SPRING BREAK || ---- || [http://www.ccnr.uconn.edu/ Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources]
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Mar 25 ||Rachel & Marilyn ||Climate change feedback on: oceans, atmospheric water vapor, etc.  || ||  
+
|19 Mar || Marilyn || Poverty and human conflict || Ch 9,14 ||  
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Apr 1 ||Colin & Manette || Climate change biotic impacts || ||  
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|26 Mar || Ben || Funding conservation ||Ch 11,12 ||
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Apr 8 ||Sarah B & Ben ||Climate change skeptics, critics and deniers || ||
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|2 Apr || Manette || Knowing vs doing  || Ch 15,16 ||
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Apr 15 ||Kasey & Sam ||Climate change: economics and politics || ||
+
|9 Apr || Nikisha || Traditions and politics || Ch 10,17 ||
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Apr 22 ||Guillermo & Graz ||Climate change mitigation: science and policy || ||
+
|16 Apr || Manette || Drivers of change || Ch 18, 19 ||
 
|-  
 
|-  
|Apr 29 ||Adam Whelchel and Bill Hyatt ||Climate change adaptation and conservation planning || ||  
+
|23 Apr || Chris E. || Conclusions ||Ch 20 ||  
 
|-  
 
|-  
 
|}
 
|}
  
== Logistical Matters ==
+
== Expectations ==
  
We will read papers or have presentations and discuss them in class each week.  Most discussions will be led by two students.
+
Here are some general comments about my expectations for the class.  Exact details will vary depending on the semester's topic.  Generally we will read papers or have presentations and discuss them in class each week.  Most discussions will be led by students, and everyone is expected to sign up to lead at least one discussion. The schedule is posted above. 
  
Seminar Leaders: Prepare a seven to ten-minute overview of the subject matterWe recommend a brief PowerPoint presentation but such is not necessary.  Other media are welcome as well, but again not necessary. Time your presentations beforehand so they don’t go over 10-12 minutesYour presentations need not be exhaustive or comprehensive—-just introduce the class to major data sources, helpful graphics, or touch on matters that you think are likely to generate discussion.  Feel free to return to the graphics and data in the IPCC documents and other previously visited papers and resources.
+
'''Discussion leaders:''' Generally, my expectation is that you will present a 5-10 minute (NO MORE!) introduction to the topicYour introduction should draw on the readings, but should not simply re-state what we have all readSimply reiterating what the readings say is boring and doesn't accomplish much.  Instead, your job as leader is to get a discussion goingThis is hard (and I will help), but far more interesting for everyone involved. Here are some tips:
  
Enrolled students:  John and I will work with each team of presenters to make sure that (out-of-class) reading assignments are can be completed in about 90-120 minutes.  Come to class prepared to speak and contribute to each week’s discussion.  Part of that preparation may mean looking over some ancillary website, reference, or engaging in other activity that will give you a unique perspective or opinion on a given subject.
+
* Make sure that you have enough to say to keep things moving, but do not feel that you have to say everything that you have thought of or cover every idea in the readings.  If the conversation is going well, just let it take its course.  The worst thing that can happen is that no one says anything.  The next worst thing is that the leader completely dominates the conversation (I can be guilty of this sin myself, so feel free to cut me off if I'm talking too much).
 
+
Attendance:  If you know that you are going to miss a class meeting, send me an email—if you miss two seminars there will be a make-up assignment.
+
 
+
LCD Projector:  We will have an LCD projector checked out for the semester and available in the EEB office by 1:30 PM. Otherwise it will be delivered to Bamford about 5 minutes before class.  If you do not have a laptop, let me know and I will bring mine.
+
 
+
== Grading ==
+
 
+
The course is S/U and it is unusual for people to fail.  But, if you hardly ever participate in the discussions, appear to have not done the readings, and/or have two unexcused absences, we will fail you. 
+
 
+
 
+
== Tips for Discussion Leaders ==
+
 
+
Your introduction should draw on the readings, but should not simply re-state what we have all read.  Instead, your job as leaders is to get a discussion going. Here are some suggestions from Chris Elphick (below "I" refers to Chris).
+
 
+
* Make sure that you have enough to say to keep things moving, but do not feel that you have to say everything that you have thought of or cover every idea in the readings.  If the conversation is going well, just let it take its course.  The worst thing that can happen is that no one says anything.  The next worst thing is that the leader or just one or two students (or the two faculty) dominate the conversation...so feel free to cut any off if they are talking too much.
+
  
 
* In your introduction, try to synthesize the material and draw out the major points. What are the 3-5 things you'd tell your parents if you were going to explain this to them over dinner - the chances are good that these are the same things we should be focused on.  Also, feel free to supplement the reading material with other information on the topic to broaden the discussion.
 
* In your introduction, try to synthesize the material and draw out the major points. What are the 3-5 things you'd tell your parents if you were going to explain this to them over dinner - the chances are good that these are the same things we should be focused on.  Also, feel free to supplement the reading material with other information on the topic to broaden the discussion.
  
* Come with a list of questions to ask (more than you think you'll need).  The more specific the questions are the better, as this makes them easier for people to respond to.  Consider, emailing some questions a day or two before class so that people can think about them while they are reading the materials (if you email them to Dave Wagner, he will forward them to the rest of the class).
+
* Come with a list of questions to ask (more than you think you'll need).  The more specific the questions are the better, as this makes them easier for people to respond to.  Email around some questions a day or two before class so that people can think about them while they are reading the materials (if you email them to me, I will forward them to the rest of the class).
  
 
* Ask people what surprised them, and why.  If you're not leading, think how you'd answer this question.  If people complain about the readings, ask them how things could have been done better, or what needs to be done next.
 
* Ask people what surprised them, and why.  If you're not leading, think how you'd answer this question.  If people complain about the readings, ask them how things could have been done better, or what needs to be done next.
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* Where possible, try to relate your topic to those we have discussed in previous weeks so that the ideas covered by the class build over the course of the semester.  
 
* Where possible, try to relate your topic to those we have discussed in previous weeks so that the ideas covered by the class build over the course of the semester.  
  
* Being purposefully provocative (even if you don't believe what you're saying) can often help to get people talking.  If the material is appropriate, set the discussion up as a debate - tell half the class that they have to argue one side and the other half that they have to argue the opposite.  This approach can force people to really think about the ideas and about their preconceptions.  If you are going to do this, it is best to warn people ahead of time.
+
* Being purposefully provocative (even if you don't believe what you're saying) can often help to get people talking.  If the material is appropriate, set the discussion up as a debate - tell half the class that they have to argue one side and the other half that they have to argue the opposite.  This approach can force people to really think about the ideas and about their preconceptions.  If you are going to do this, it is best to warn people ahead of time (though don't tell them which side they will be on).
  
 
* When you ask a question, give people lots of time to respond.  A good rule is to (slowly) count to 10 in your head before moving on.  This is because (a) it often takes people this long to formulate something to say and (b) the uncomfortable silence (and it can be excruciating) is often what it takes to get people talking.  This sounds (and can feel) horrible, but it really works, and the discussions that result are much richer.
 
* When you ask a question, give people lots of time to respond.  A good rule is to (slowly) count to 10 in your head before moving on.  This is because (a) it often takes people this long to formulate something to say and (b) the uncomfortable silence (and it can be excruciating) is often what it takes to get people talking.  This sounds (and can feel) horrible, but it really works, and the discussions that result are much richer.
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* If no one answers a question, and there is a simple yes/no, do you agree/disagree, type answer, then ask for a show of hands - then you can focus in on individuals and ask them to explain their response.
 
* If no one answers a question, and there is a simple yes/no, do you agree/disagree, type answer, then ask for a show of hands - then you can focus in on individuals and ask them to explain their response.
  
*  Don't pick on individuals and make them comment unless you have to.  But if no one says anything, then it is OK to do this.  Everyone else is responsible for reading and thinking about the material too, so it should not be a surprise to them.  Even though you are in charge of running things, the responsibility for maintaining a discussion lies with everyone in the room.  If you think people are not engaging in the discussion enough, then it is '''your''' job to do something about it ... don't just expect us to do it for you.
+
*  Don't pick on individuals and make them comment unless you have to.  But if no one says anything, then it is OK to do this.  Everyone else is responsible for reading and thinking about the material too, so it should not be a surprise to them.  Even though you are in charge of running things, the responsibility for maintaining a discussion lies with everyone in the room.  If you think people are not engaging in the discussion enough, then it is '''your''' job to do something about it ... don't just expect me to do it for you.
  
*  Finally, in weeks when you are not leading, make sure that you have thought about the material enough that you can help the leader out.  Come with at least 2 or 3 ideas to talk about if things get quiet.  If the leader has sent out questions, actually think about them before class.  And be responsible about doing the reading.  If you do all this stuff, others will do the same when it's your turn to lead.
+
*  Finally, in weeks when you are not leading, make sure that you have thought about the material enough that you can help the leader out.  Come with at least 2 or 3 ideas to talk about if things get too quiet.  If the leader has sent out questions, actually think about them before class.  And be responsible about doing the reading.  If you do all this stuff, others will do the same when it's your turn to lead.
  
 
The hardest part is getting the conversation started.  Once it's going, it will often run itself - and if it is doing this you should let it.  I've been running seminars for a few years now, and I'm only just getting to where I realize that my job is to say as little as possible.  If I talk the whole time, then I'm essentially lecturing ... and this is not a lecture format ... the goals are very different, they are to get people thinking on their feet and discussing ideas to help them learn the stuff for themselves.  But, it is your job to ensure that we are not just subjected to silence.
 
The hardest part is getting the conversation started.  Once it's going, it will often run itself - and if it is doing this you should let it.  I've been running seminars for a few years now, and I'm only just getting to where I realize that my job is to say as little as possible.  If I talk the whole time, then I'm essentially lecturing ... and this is not a lecture format ... the goals are very different, they are to get people thinking on their feet and discussing ideas to help them learn the stuff for themselves.  But, it is your job to ensure that we are not just subjected to silence.
  
'''PowerPoint:'''  Often, it is not necessary, but sometimes it can help by putting up key talking points where everyone can see them.  If there are figures that you want to ask questions about, then putting them up on a screen can be very useful.  Likewise, having your questions on screen for people to refer to can help.   
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'''PowerPoint:''' When presenting a reading, I don't really mind whether you use PowerPoint or not. Often, it is not necessary, but sometimes it can help by putting up key talking points where everyone can see them.  If you do use PowerPoint, it should be to help maintain a conversation, not to just reiterate what is in the reading.  If there are figures that you want to ask questions about, then putting them up on a screen can be very useful.  Likewise, having your questions on screen for people to refer to can help.  I will reserve a projector for each class session, but you will need to go and get it from the EEB office before class.  If you do not have a laptop, let me know and I will bring mine. 
 +
 
 +
'''Grading:'''  The course is S/U and it is unusual for people to fail.  But, if you hardly ever participate in the discussions, I will fail you.  '''''This is your only warning!!'''''
 +
 
  
 
'' If you have never led a discussion in a seminar course before, or feel nervous about doing so, please talk to me beforehand. It isn't as hard as it might seem, and it's always easier if you're well prepared and know what to expect.''
 
'' If you have never led a discussion in a seminar course before, or feel nervous about doing so, please talk to me beforehand. It isn't as hard as it might seem, and it's always easier if you're well prepared and know what to expect.''
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== Discussion/News ==
 
== Discussion/News ==
  
If you have any information related to the course (e.g., relevant news items, related web links, etc.), feel free to post it here.  Please put the date first, then your name;  be concise; and organize the list so that items are in reverse chronological order.  For an example of the right format, check out Chris Elphick's Conservation Biology in the News site [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/eebedia/index.php/Conservation_biology_in_the_news here].  If you're not an EEB graduate student, then you can email items to me and I will add them, but please send them to me in the right format.
+
If you have any information related to the course (e.g., relevant news items, related web links, etc.), feel free to post it here.  Please put the date first, then your name;  be concise; and organize the list so that items are in reverse chronological order.  For an example of the right format, check out my Conservation Biology in the News site [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/eebedia/index.php/Conservation_biology_in_the_news here].  If you're not an EEB graduate student, then you can email items to me and I will add them, but please send them to me in the right format.
 +
 
 +
== Course history ==
 +
 
 +
If you are interested in the topics that we have covered in this class in past years, I have preserved previous versions of the web page, linked below.
 +
 
 +
During 2011, the topic was climate change. To see what was covered during that course,
 +
[http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/eebedia/index.php/Climate_change_%28EEB_5370:_Spring_2011%29 click here].
 +
 
 +
During 2010, the topic was invasion biology. To see what we covered during that course,
 +
[http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/eebedia/index.php/Invasion_Biology_%28EEB_5370:_Spring_2010%29 click here].
 +
 
 +
During 2009, the topic was evidence-based conservation. To see what we covered during that course, [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/eebedia/index.php/Evidence-based_Conservation click here].
 +
 
 +
During 2008, the topic was the history of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. To see what we covered during that course, [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/eebedia/index.php/EEB_489:_Conservation_and_the_Endangered_Species_Act_(Spring_2008) click here].
 +
 
 +
During 2007, the topic was the biological consequences of climate change.  To see what we covered during that course, [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/courses/EEB489/ click here].
 +
 
 +
During 2006, the topic was the conservation implications of invasive species. To see what we covered during that course, [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/courses/EEB489/EEB489_2006_syllabus_invasives.htm click here].
 +
 
 +
During 2005, the topic was relating general conservation approaches to local problems in New England. To see what we covered during that course, [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/courses/EEB489/EEB489_2005_syllabus.htm click here].
 +
 
 +
During 2004, the topic was the role of science in the U.S. Endangered Species Act. To see what we covered during that course, [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/courses/EEB489/EEB489_2004_syllabus.htm click here]; for a reading list, [http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/courses/EEB489/ESA_readings.htm click here].
  
 
== Other information ==
 
== Other information ==

Revision as of 10:19, 31 January 2012

Contents

EEB 5370: Conservation trade-offs (Spring 2012)

Credits: 1

Instructor: Chris Elphick (email: chris.elphick[AT]uconn.edu)

Meeting time: 5-6 Monday

Location: Bamford (TLS 179)

The topic of this seminar course varies from year to year depending on what is "current" in conservation biology and what students in the program are interested in focusing on. Usually we pick a recent book or selected readings focused around a specific theme in order to get a deeper understanding of the topic than would be normal in a survey course. If you have suggestions for future topics, please let me know.

This year, the topic will be trade-offs in conservation. Given the many competing priorities and limited resources that managers face, effectively addressing this topic is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing conservation biologists. We will read and discuss the book Trade-offs in Conservation: Deciding What to Save (Leader-Williams et al. 2010, Wiley-Blackwell), which addresses this topic from a diversity of perspectives (authors include those with backgrounds in economics, anthropology, the law, etc., as well as ecologists).

The course is required for students in the EEB BS/MS program, but is open to all graduate students. A few senior (and occasionally junior) undergraduates also take the course every year, and I encourage you to do so if you are interested. To be eligible as an undergraduate, you should have at least a B average and should talk to me first. Undergraduates will need a permission number to enroll. The course is limited to ~12-15 students each year and I occasionally have to turn people away, but we try to accommodate as many people as possible. Priority is given to students in the BS/MS program who need the course to graduate. Post-docs, adjuncts, and (even) faculty are welcome to join in the fun.

Schedule (subject to change)

A tentative schedule is posted below. Everyone should sign up to lead the discussion one week (see next section for tips on leading effectively). If you have EEBedia editing rights (i.e., if you are an EEB graduate student) then you can go in yourself and sign up to present. If you do not, email me and tell me when you'd like to lead so that I can put you on the schedule. If you are flexible on your topic/date, then include a note at the bottom of the schedule so that others know they can move things around. DO NOT MOVE ANYONE TO A DIFFERENT SLOT WITHOUT ASKING THEM FIRST. After the first meeting, I will assign weeks to anyone who has not yet signed up.

Week Who Topic Reading Notes
23 Jan Chris E. What to save? Ch 1
30 Jan Chris F. Setting priorities Ch 2 questions to think about
6 Feb Identifying global priority areas Ch 3
13 Feb Heidi Ecosystem services and human well-being Ch 4
20 Feb Chris Field Defining & measuring success Ch 5
27 Feb Kasey What matters? Inverts and Animal Welfare Ch 6,7
5 Mar Katie Protection, use, sustainability Ch 8,13
12 Mar ---- NO MEETING: SPRING BREAK ---- Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources
19 Mar Marilyn Poverty and human conflict Ch 9,14
26 Mar Ben Funding conservation Ch 11,12
2 Apr Manette Knowing vs doing Ch 15,16
9 Apr Nikisha Traditions and politics Ch 10,17
16 Apr Manette Drivers of change Ch 18, 19
23 Apr Chris E. Conclusions Ch 20

Expectations

Here are some general comments about my expectations for the class. Exact details will vary depending on the semester's topic. Generally we will read papers or have presentations and discuss them in class each week. Most discussions will be led by students, and everyone is expected to sign up to lead at least one discussion. The schedule is posted above.

Discussion leaders: Generally, my expectation is that you will present a 5-10 minute (NO MORE!) introduction to the topic. Your introduction should draw on the readings, but should not simply re-state what we have all read. Simply reiterating what the readings say is boring and doesn't accomplish much. Instead, your job as leader is to get a discussion going. This is hard (and I will help), but far more interesting for everyone involved. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure that you have enough to say to keep things moving, but do not feel that you have to say everything that you have thought of or cover every idea in the readings. If the conversation is going well, just let it take its course. The worst thing that can happen is that no one says anything. The next worst thing is that the leader completely dominates the conversation (I can be guilty of this sin myself, so feel free to cut me off if I'm talking too much).
  • In your introduction, try to synthesize the material and draw out the major points. What are the 3-5 things you'd tell your parents if you were going to explain this to them over dinner - the chances are good that these are the same things we should be focused on. Also, feel free to supplement the reading material with other information on the topic to broaden the discussion.
  • Come with a list of questions to ask (more than you think you'll need). The more specific the questions are the better, as this makes them easier for people to respond to. Email around some questions a day or two before class so that people can think about them while they are reading the materials (if you email them to me, I will forward them to the rest of the class).
  • Ask people what surprised them, and why. If you're not leading, think how you'd answer this question. If people complain about the readings, ask them how things could have been done better, or what needs to be done next.
  • Where possible, try to relate your topic to those we have discussed in previous weeks so that the ideas covered by the class build over the course of the semester.
  • Being purposefully provocative (even if you don't believe what you're saying) can often help to get people talking. If the material is appropriate, set the discussion up as a debate - tell half the class that they have to argue one side and the other half that they have to argue the opposite. This approach can force people to really think about the ideas and about their preconceptions. If you are going to do this, it is best to warn people ahead of time (though don't tell them which side they will be on).
  • When you ask a question, give people lots of time to respond. A good rule is to (slowly) count to 10 in your head before moving on. This is because (a) it often takes people this long to formulate something to say and (b) the uncomfortable silence (and it can be excruciating) is often what it takes to get people talking. This sounds (and can feel) horrible, but it really works, and the discussions that result are much richer.
  • If no one answers a question, and there is a simple yes/no, do you agree/disagree, type answer, then ask for a show of hands - then you can focus in on individuals and ask them to explain their response.
  • Don't pick on individuals and make them comment unless you have to. But if no one says anything, then it is OK to do this. Everyone else is responsible for reading and thinking about the material too, so it should not be a surprise to them. Even though you are in charge of running things, the responsibility for maintaining a discussion lies with everyone in the room. If you think people are not engaging in the discussion enough, then it is your job to do something about it ... don't just expect me to do it for you.
  • Finally, in weeks when you are not leading, make sure that you have thought about the material enough that you can help the leader out. Come with at least 2 or 3 ideas to talk about if things get too quiet. If the leader has sent out questions, actually think about them before class. And be responsible about doing the reading. If you do all this stuff, others will do the same when it's your turn to lead.

The hardest part is getting the conversation started. Once it's going, it will often run itself - and if it is doing this you should let it. I've been running seminars for a few years now, and I'm only just getting to where I realize that my job is to say as little as possible. If I talk the whole time, then I'm essentially lecturing ... and this is not a lecture format ... the goals are very different, they are to get people thinking on their feet and discussing ideas to help them learn the stuff for themselves. But, it is your job to ensure that we are not just subjected to silence.

PowerPoint: When presenting a reading, I don't really mind whether you use PowerPoint or not. Often, it is not necessary, but sometimes it can help by putting up key talking points where everyone can see them. If you do use PowerPoint, it should be to help maintain a conversation, not to just reiterate what is in the reading. If there are figures that you want to ask questions about, then putting them up on a screen can be very useful. Likewise, having your questions on screen for people to refer to can help. I will reserve a projector for each class session, but you will need to go and get it from the EEB office before class. If you do not have a laptop, let me know and I will bring mine.

Grading: The course is S/U and it is unusual for people to fail. But, if you hardly ever participate in the discussions, I will fail you. This is your only warning!!


If you have never led a discussion in a seminar course before, or feel nervous about doing so, please talk to me beforehand. It isn't as hard as it might seem, and it's always easier if you're well prepared and know what to expect.

Discussion/News

If you have any information related to the course (e.g., relevant news items, related web links, etc.), feel free to post it here. Please put the date first, then your name; be concise; and organize the list so that items are in reverse chronological order. For an example of the right format, check out my Conservation Biology in the News site here. If you're not an EEB graduate student, then you can email items to me and I will add them, but please send them to me in the right format.

Course history

If you are interested in the topics that we have covered in this class in past years, I have preserved previous versions of the web page, linked below.

During 2011, the topic was climate change. To see what was covered during that course, click here.

During 2010, the topic was invasion biology. To see what we covered during that course, click here.

During 2009, the topic was evidence-based conservation. To see what we covered during that course, click here.

During 2008, the topic was the history of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. To see what we covered during that course, click here.

During 2007, the topic was the biological consequences of climate change. To see what we covered during that course, click here.

During 2006, the topic was the conservation implications of invasive species. To see what we covered during that course, click here.

During 2005, the topic was relating general conservation approaches to local problems in New England. To see what we covered during that course, click here.

During 2004, the topic was the role of science in the U.S. Endangered Species Act. To see what we covered during that course, click here; for a reading list, click here.

Other information

For information about EEB's Joint B.S./M.S. degree program in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology click here

For information about the Society for Conservation Biology click here

For information on jobs in conservation biology click here

For information on jobs in wildlife biology click here

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