Biol 843 Population Biology

Instructor: Ed Connor                                           Office: 760 Hensill Hall
Phone: 338-6997                                                    Office hours: M 1:00 - 3:00


Lectures and Discussions: MW 10:10 - 11:35, Hensill Hall Room 116

Readings: Journal Articles (see attached reading list)


Course Format: This is a graduate course and the emphasis will be on learning to read, critically evaluate, and discuss the primary literature. Short lectures that introduce or provide background information on particular topics will also be given as deemed necessary by the instructor or at student request. We will also attempt to learn how to develop computer models of biological populations.

Most of what you will learn from this course will come from your careful reading of the literature, our discussions of that literature, and the questions you ask and are answered by your fellow students and by the instructor. Coming to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings is essential to successfully complete this course.


Journal Article Presentations - Each student will also present, critique, and lead the discussion on several journal articles to the class. You will know well in advance what the papers will be, so that you may grasp the substance of the paper and present it to the class. You may find it necessary or helpful to read related papers to assist you in your presentation. Each student will present several papers over the course of the semester, depending on the enrollment. Review the papers in the attached reading list /schedule and select six that you would prefer to present. List these papers in rank order of preference and turn this in to me by class time on 3 September.

Presentations should take approximately 15 minutes, followed by 10-15 minutes of questions and discussion of the paper afterward. The presentation should give the substance of the paper - the questions examined, the approach used, the results obtained, and the conclusions reached. Only discuss details of methods and results as they are necessary to either criticize or laud the paper. Your presentation should refresh the classes’ memory, since they will have read the paper, and set the stage to direct the discussion to what you see as the exciting aspects of the paper or its flaws. Try to reserve your critical comments to the end of your presentation so that they may serve to direct the subsequent discussion. Do not be afraid to admit that there are parts of a paper that you find confusing or difficult to understand. Some papers are difficult to understand even after concerted effort has been made to do so. Perhaps our group discussion and examination of such papers will make them understandable. Remember using 20 heads is better than only one when trying to sort out difficult concepts.

Term Paper/Term Project:

Each student is required to complete either a term paper or term project. Each student should consult with the instructor to seek pre-approval and advice on their term paper/project.

Term Paper: Each student will select a question in the field of population biology and write a term paper in the form of a research proposal. The paper must outline and motivate a question and design research to answer that question. The term paper should be prepared in the format used by NSF either as a regular NSF research grant, for doctoral dissertation proposals, dissertation improvement awards, or postdoctoral fellowships. Select your term paper topic and have it approved by me. A first draft of this proposal should be submitted by 12 November. I will mark-up the first draft and return it to you by 19 November. The final draft is due on 14 December. Click here for some tips on writing essays.

Term Project: Term projects can involve developing a computer program to implement analytical tools used in population biology (elasticity/sensitivity analysis, Diffusion Approximation analysis, key-factor analysis, etc.), or analyzing data using existing computer software. Term projects must include a set of instructions on how to use the program, format for data, and a class demonstration of the program.    

Course Evaluation: No examinations will be given. Grades will be based on:

Class participation 30%

Journal Article Presentation 30%

Term Paper/Term Project 40%