G6905 Graduate Seminar in Conservation Biology


Amphiprion pacificus, an endemic species of clownfish we described, highlights the importance of islands in generating biodiversity and raises questions about the scale at which conservation should take place

This spring I will be teaching a graduate seminar in conservation biology.  The goal of this class will be to provide students with a nuanced look at the problems facing conservation biologists in the field.  I will approach this course from a historical perspective showing how the underpinnings of our science can be found in the writings of Wallace, Thoreau and Muir. I hope that this class will be a discussion filled one, as there are few unambiguously ‘right’ answers in conservation biology. My aim will be to provide students with the tools, information, and historical context necessary to address emerging conservation issues.

The syllabus is presented below:

G6905 Graduate Seminar in Conservation Biology

Joshua Drew, Ph.D. Instructor

[email protected] (212) 854-7807 @Drew_Lab

Wednesday Afternoons 4:00 to 6:00


Course Goal:

We are in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction of life on Earth. Unlike the previous five, the current one is occurring over a much shorter time scale. Moreover, this extinction is wholly dependent on human activities. The purpose of this class is to understand the biology underlying our attempts to mitigate this extinction crisis. This course will prepare you to further continue your exploration of conservation and give you the background to engage intelligently in conservation conversations, produce and analyze conservation science, and to frame your own graduate work in a conservation context.


Course Requirements:

Classes each week will consist of lectures on selected topics followed by a discussion lead by students. There will be food to facilitate these discussions. The course will incorporate both student presentations and discussions. Because of the interactive nature of the class, student participation is a critical component of the grade. This class does not fall on any Columbia recognized holidays and there will be no makeups. You will be responsible for all content covered in class.


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. I expect all students to abide by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ code of academic integrity (http://gsas.columbia.edu/content/academic-integrity-and-responsible-conduct-research). 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.

Title IX makes it clear that violence and harassment based on sex and gender are Civil Rights offenses subject to the same kinds of accountability and the same kinds of support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, etc. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted, you can find the appropriate resources at http://sexualrespect.columbia.edu. We also provide accommodations for students with documented disabilities; please check with https://health.columbia.edu/disability-services to ensure I get notified if this is applicable. Lastly, I want to maintain a respectful atmosphere where students are free to discuss topics in a safe and collegial atmosphere. We will be covering some potentially contentious topics in class, discussion is encouraged, disrespect is not. 


Course Evaluation:

This course will consist of lectures, discussions and active learning opportunities, thus class participation and readings are going to factor heavily in the grade. You will have six parts to your grade.


1) Each week we will be having a discussion session that will be lead by a different student. Each week four students will choose one paper each to present to the group. They will also be responsible for leading a discussion on those papers. Each student is responsible for reading each paper and for making a substantive contribution to discussion.

2&3) Students will be expected to write a term paper on a topic to be determined by the student and professor. This paper could in theory be empirically based, but most likely will be a literature synthesis about a topic of choice. This paper should be done in the style of a peer-reviewed paper and if of sufficient quality we will be submitting this paper for publication. Thus novelty and synthesis are paramount. Students will have to hand in a graded outline for this paper midway through the semester.

4 & 5) A final and a midterm. They will consist of a combination of short answer and longer form answer

6) Finally students will have to do one blog entry (700 words) in which they will describe the final research paper in non-technical terms.



  • Discussion Session 10%
  • Term paper outline 10%
  • Term paper 20%
  • Midterm 20%
  • Final 20%
  • Blog entry 10%
  • Class participation 10%


Course outline:


January 20th 2016

The historical roots of conservation


January 27th 2016

Biodiversity patterns, processes and distributions

February 3rd 2016

Island Biogeography and reserve design


February 10th, 2016

Ecosystem valuations – monetary approaches towards conservation

February 17th, 2016

Bush meat, small-scale fisheries and overharvesting

February 24th, 2016


March 2nd 2016

People and Parks


March 9th 2016



March 16th, 2016

Spring Break


March 23rd, 2016


March 30th, 2016

People and parks debate:  We will be structuring your debate about E.O. Wilson’s recent book “Half Earth



April 6th, 2016

Spatial planning and prioritization for conservation areas


April 13th, 2016

Climate Change


April 20th, 2016
Flagships and Keystones

April 27th, 2016

Small population management

May 11th, 2016


May 13th, 2016

Final Paper Due


The main text for the course will be Conservation Biology for All by Sodhi and Ehrlich (2010) which is generously being provided free of charge by the Society for Conservation Biology. While this text is well put together and covers the essentials, I will be drawing heavily from current published literature, blogs and grey literature. In doing so I want to convey the dynamic nature of Conservation Biology and have you become active participants in the discussion. I will be tweeting links and resources throughout the semester using the hashtag #G6905 as well as hosting your blogs here.



There are no pre-assigned readings for this course. Rather, each week we will have four papers chosen by the students. Students are required to upload the papers to courseworks by Sunday evening so that everyone has sufficient time to read them.