This course is designed to allow senior undergraduate and graduate students to become intimately acquainted with the key primary literature in aquatic ecology and the major issues challenging the field, while also stimulating them to develop their own ideas on how to overcome these and expand the discipline. There are four main exercises in the course: 1) a student-led discussion of primary literature; 2) a critical review; 3) a meta-analysis, and 4) a grant proposal. These exercises are designed to encourage independent thinking, to give students an appreciation of how different types of investigations are initiated, how innovative approaches emerge, and how novel theoretical concepts are synthesized in the area of aquatic ecology.
1) Student-led paper discussions.
The students will discuss a pair of papers, one of which will be among the most highly cited papers on this topic and the second of which will be of approximately the same vintage and contain interesting approaches or findings but will have had more modest citations.
2) A critical review (oral presentation and abstract).
Students should critically analyze a paper by addressing its strengths and weaknesses, asking what questions remain unanswered and how additional questions might be addressed. Students should also take a historical view to the critique by developing an appreciation of the studies which formed the foundations of the paper in question. A 250-word abstract should also be prepared summarizing the above points. Class members are expected to read the focal paper and abstract such that they can participate actively in the class discussion.
3) Meta-analysis (oral presentation and extended abstract)
The literature regarding many basic questions in aquatic ecology is full of similar studies that have reported small – moderate effects, but often there is no quantitative synthesis (aka meta-analysis) to identify a general pattern. Students will be given a background in meta-analyses in the form of a lecture and background readings. For the meta-analyses assignment, each student will be responsible for identifying a topic, conducting an appropriate meta-analysis of the available literature and presenting this analysis to the class orally. Students are also expected to develop a two-page extended abstract, which will allow fellow class members to prepare to participate in the discussion.
4) Grant proposal (oral presentation and abstract)
Identifying exciting new avenues for research and building on existing literature is a major activity of any research scientist. The goal of this exercise is to build on our earlier discussions identifying emerging areas of research and understanding what makes for a successful project. This grant proposal project will be conducted in two steps. During week 6 of the course, each student will submit a one page letter of intent that clearly outlines their question, set in the context of existing literature, and provides some details regarding their approach (e.g. lab experiment, field experiment, and/or field survey). A week later, the students will receive feedback from the class grant panel such that they might further develop their ideas. In the last three weeks of the course, each student will give a presentation summarizing their grant proposals.
Readings from journal articles will be assigned
Additional recommended reading:
Inland Water Ecosystems: a textbook of Limnology by J. Kalff (Prentice-Hall, 2001)
Limnology by R.G. Wetzel (Academic Press, 2001)
Limnoecology: The Ecology of Lakes and Streams by W. Lampert and U. Sommer (Oxford University Press, 1997)