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G6905 Graduate Seminar In Conservation Biology


Sunset over the Yasawa Islands, Fiji: This semester we will be asking about the role of tourist developments in fostering conservation

Instructor:                Joshua Drew

1009 Schermerhorn Ext.

phone: 212 845-7807

email –

Meeting Time:          W 4:10-6:00pm                     

Office Hours:           Wednesday 1-2 or by appointment

Textbook:                 Required:

An Introduction to Methods and Models in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology by Braude and Low

Community Ecology: Analytical Methods Using R and Excel (Data in the Wild) by Gardener

Prerequisites:         undergraduate or graduate level coursework in ecology, evolution and or conservation biology.



This class will focus on a critical understanding of major global threats to biodiversity. We will also dedicate considerable time to introducing students to the analytical tools and methods necessary to critically evaluate competing demands for limited conservation resources. Upon completion of this course students will have an understanding of the historical roots of conservation issues as well as being able to develop quantitative and culturally appropriate approaches to addressing these issues.


Midterm 20%

Group Project 30%

Quantitative assignments 15%

Historical Essay 10%

Debate 15%

Reading Discussion 10%

For each lecture exam you will be responsible for all reading material and all lecture materials. The final exam is comprehensive, but will be weighted for material after the mid-semester exam. If you have a conflict with exams contact me as soon as possible and arrangements will be made to take the exam prior to the scheduled date. There are no make-ups for missing an exam unless you have a valid preapproved excuse or medical emergency etc.

This class will consist of one weekly lectures and discussions of the literature. Each week a student will have to lead at least one class discussion concerning the readings. This will occur during the last half hour of class and the leader should be prepared to keep the conversation running for that length of time. To facilitate this the discussion leader will have thoroughly read all the papers and be prepared to ask questions that draw linkages across the topics not simply summarizing the papers. Students may lead the discussion in a traditional question and answer format, or through more active techniques. They will be graded on the following criteria: 1) understanding of individual papers (40%) 2) synthesis across papers and with the lecture topic (40%) 3) ability to foster student engagement (20%). For each discussion I will choose one older paper and it will be up to the discussion leader to choose a more recent (2015-2017) paper about that week’s topic. Students much email me the paper one week before their discussion so that everyone has a chance to read it. I expect every student to have read each of the assigned papers for each class. Failure to do so will not only hurt your own education, but will lower the your grade.

Student participation:

Everyone in this class should feel comfortable to express an idea, even if the idea is not a popular one. I encourage intellectual controversy and believe it is how we learn best. We expect all students to abide by their respective school’ code of academic integrity GSAS: Breaches of the student code such as cheating and plagiarism (that is, taking credit for the work of others) will not be tolerated, and any breaches of the student code will be referred to the Dean’s Office. Students seeking disability services must register here, and I will be happy to accommodate their recommendations.


Conservation Biology Exercises:


Class work: This class has an emphasis on active learning, thus you will have homework due every week (including the first week) and most times this homework will transition into group work within class. Thus if you do not do the homework ahead of time you will most likely be lost within class, and that you will bring down your group. It is in everyone’s best interest for you to do the homework and come to class prepared to discuss and engage with the material.

Recitation: One of the main goals of this class will be to give you a suite of quantitative skills to help assess biodiversity and the threats facing it. While this could take many different forms, I am grounding this class in community ecology theory. The second half of the class will have several assignments to teach you both quantitative community ecology but also how to use these tools within the free statistical environment, R. However as this class is only two hours long, we will not be able to do much of this within the lecture, thus we will have a weekly two-hour voluntary discussion where your group can meet with the TA to work through the problem sets.



We will be having one class long debate centered on the question “Are Species or Ecosystems the most appropriate scale for conservation” To prepare for this each student must read an article supporting one of the two views and submit that paper to me one week in advance. I will curate these papers on the course website so that everyone can see what resources are being brought to the debate.

The debate will consist of two teams, which I will assign. Each team will have to make a 10 min opening statement (and may use up to three total slides). Each team should plan on making use of at least three resources during their opening statement. Each team will also have a chance to make a rebuttal to the opening statement.

Then the debate will move into a less formal format where we will allow a give and take between the sides and the participants. Each student is expected to make a substantive comment backed up by the paper that they chose to read, and at least one more extemporaneous comment. Extra points will be allocated for students who can work in other resources from class and who are able to respond to critiques of their statements in a professional fashion.

Group Project:

Students will work in groups of three or four individuals will complete one of several group projects. The point of these projects is to understand the complexity of real-world conservation issues and to present the views of the varying stakeholders while coming up with practical solutions that are both ecologically grounded but also socially just. Some of these projects are in-class designs that I created, but I have also reached out to conservation practitioners and they may have projects for you to work on with real world applicability. Additionally one or more of the projects may involve working with partners in different institutions.

Potential projects may include those suggested by the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or Birdlife International.

Historical Essay:

You will have a short essay on the history of an idea due February 1st. The goal here is to see how an idea developed over time, as outlined in B&L chapter 22. Therefore I want you to choose one of these papers and follow not only how the idea has developed since publication, but also dive back to see what the ideas intellectual antecedents were like (there’s an example in B&L if you need more clarification).  The papers are:

You’ll have to choose this paper before the first class and be prepared to say which paper and why during class. The assignment itself will be a 1500-2000 word essay (excluding references, of which I suspect there will be a substantial amount) outlining where this idea came from and where it went after publication.


Week 1 January 18th: History

Text Readings: B&L 22

In Class Assignment: Nothing New Under the Sun.

Journal Readings: Wallace, Alfred Russell. “On the physical geography of the Malay Archipelago.” The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 33 (1863): 217-234.

Kareiva, Peter, and Michelle Marvier. “What is conservation science?.” BioScience 62.11 (2012): 962-969.

Week 2 January 25th: Quantifying Biodiversity

Text Readings: B&L 17

In Class Assignment: Fighting for Biodiversity

Journal Readings: Gering, Jon C., Thomas O. Crist, and Joseph A. Veech. “Additive partitioning of species diversity across multiple spatial scales: implications for regional conservation of biodiversity.” Conservation Biology 17.2 (2003): 488-499.

Hill, Samantha LL, et al. “Reconciling biodiversity indicators to guide understanding and action.Conservation Letters 9.6 (2016): 405-412.

Week 3 February 1st: Island Biogeography

Text Readings: B&L 9

In class Assignment: Understanding Biogeography of Channel Island Birds

Journal Readings: Diamond, Jared M. “Biogeographic kinetics: estimation of relaxation times for avifaunas of southwest Pacific islands.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 69.11 (1972): 3199-3203.

Blank, Lior, et al. “Horizontal and vertical island biogeography of arthropods on green roofs: a review.” Urban Ecosystems (2017): 1-7.

Homework due: Historical Essay


Week 4 February 8th: Demographic Stochasticity

Text Readings: B&L 11

In class Assignment: Simulation of Extinction

Journal Readings Legendre, Stéphane, et al. “Demographic stochasticity and social mating system in the process of extinction of small populations: the case of passerines introduced to New Zealand.” The American Naturalist 153.5 (1999): 449-463.

Dennis, Brian, and William P. Kemp. “How hives collapse: Allee effects, ecological resilience, and the honey bee.” PloS one 11.2 (2016): e0150055.


Week 5 February 15th: Management of Small Populations

Text Readings: B&L 12

In Class Assignment African Rhino Conservation

Journal Readings: Lacy, Robert C. “Loss of genetic diversity from managed populations: interacting effects of drift, mutation, immigration, selection, and population subdivision.” Conservation Biology 1.2 (1987): 143-158.

Pastorini, Jennifer, et al. “Comparison of the genetic variation of captive ring‐tailed lemurs with a wild population in Madagascar.” Zoo biology 34.5 (2015): 463-472.


Week 6 February 22nd: Dispersal and Metapopulations

Text Readings: B&L 13

In Class Assignment: Save the Woggles

Journal Readings: Aycrigg, Jocelyn L., and Edward O. Garton. “Linking metapopulation structure to elk population management in Idaho: a genetic approach.” Journal of Mammalogy 95.3 (2014): 597-614.

Puckett, B. J., and D. B. Eggleston. “Metapopulation dynamics guide marine reserve design: importance of connectivity, demographics, and stock enhancement.” Ecosphere 7.6 (2016).


Week 7 March 1: Midterm


Week 8 March 8th: Climate Change

Text Readings: B&L 18, G7

In Class Assignment: Response to Constancy, Contingency and Unpredictability

Journal Readings: Araújo, Miguel B., et al. “Would climate change drive species out of reserves? An assessment of existing reserve‐selection methods.” Global change biology 10.9 (2004): 1618-1626.

Bellard, C., et al. “Vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise of the 35th biodiversity hotspot, the Forests of East Australia.” Environmental Conservation 43.01 (2016): 79-89.

Homework Due: G7: Diversity: Species richness (For this and following weeks, only the calculations in R questions, not the ones focusing on Excel)


Week 9 March 15th: Spring Break


Week 10 March 22nd: Invasive Species

Text Readings: B&L 8, G 8

In Class Assignment: Explosive growth in Zebra Mussels

Journal Readings: Blumenthal, Dana M., and Ruth A. Hufbauer. “Increased plant size in exotic populations: a common‐garden test with 14 invasive species.” Ecology 88.11 (2007): 2758-2765.

Walsh JR, Carpenter SR, Vander Zanden MJ. Invasive species triggers a massive loss of ecosystem services through a trophic cascade. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2016;113(15):4081-4085. doi:10.1073/pnas.1600366113.


Week 11 March 29th: Human Dimensions of Conservation

Text Readings: G9

Journal Readings: Shoreman-Ouimet, Eleanor, and Helen Kopnina. “Reconciling ecological and social justice to promote biodiversity conservation.” Biological Conservation184 (2015): 320-326.

West, Paige, James Igoe, and Dan Brockington. “Parks and peoples: the social impact of protected areas.” Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 35 (2006): 251-277.

Homework Due: G8&G9: Diversity: indices and Diversity: comparing


Week 12 April 5th: Fisheries and Wild Caught Game

Text Readings G10.1-G10.5

Journal Readings: Thibault, Marc, and Sonia Blaney. “The oil industry as an underlying factor in the bushmeat crisis in Central Africa.” Conservation Biology 17.6 (2003): 1807-1813.

Homework Debate reading due to Josh


Week 13 April 12th: Debate Should species or ecosystems be the focus of conservation?

Readings: Each Student must submit one paper

Homework G10: Diversity: sampling scale


Week 14 April 17th: Conservation Planning (MARXAN)

Text Readings G14

Journal Readings: Januchowski-Hartley, S. R., P. Visconti, and R. L. Pressey. “A systematic approach for prioritizing multiple management actions for invasive species.Biological Invasions 13.5 (2011): 1241-1253.

Week 15 April 26th: Final Presentations


Text Readings G14

Homework G14: Ordination

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