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Ecology, BIOL 300

Biodiversity,  BIOL 530

Ecology of Birds in Winter, field course, BIOL 307 (undergraduate), BIOL 848 (graduate)



Conservation Biology,  BIOL 422

Tropical Ecology, field course (Ecuador)


Ecology is the study of relationships between living things and their environment. Ecology is one of the most exciting and important fields in biology because it explores the amazing adaptations of organisms to life on earth, includes the excitement of discovery of nature, with so much still to discover, and represents a key area that we are desperate to understand given the pressing challenges facing our natural world. 

The goal of this course is to introduce and explore the field of ecology within a strong evolutionary framework. We begin with a review of the scientific method, and then apply it to ecological questions, highlighting elements of creativity and critical thinking. We then review the fundamental constraints on life that we will continually revisit as we move through material in the class. We discuss adaptations of organisms to living in diverse environments and review the importance of climate and soils, including a focused discussion of the challenges of predicting the impacts of climate change. We review evolution and evolutionary forces, adaptation, speciation, extinction, and phylogenies, and how all of this helps us to understand ecology. We then review the ecology of organisms, from life histories to social behaviours, extending to population distributions, growth, regulation, and dynamics. We learn to project population growth into the future using Leslie Matrices, and include a class on human populations. We then examine species interactions from the perspective of fitness, and explore the consequences of these interactions for populations and the evolution of adaptations. We finish the course exploring community structure, how energy and elements move through ecosystems, and global patterns of diversity, highlighting variation across latitude.

Throughout the course, we promote active learning with quizzes (no exams), interactive lectures, hands-on labs, and student participation throughout. We take all students into the field at the Queen's University Biological Station, where we learn to seine and identify fishes, call in mixed flocks of birds, and identify burying beetles. During this time, we collect data to address key questions that will be the focus of our labs throughout the semester.

Sword-billed Hummingbird Papallacta (3).

Winter Ecology of Birds

Life in Ontario is dominated by seasonal changes in climate, punctuated by winter. The majority of bird species that breed in eastern Ontario migrate out of the region to avoid the winter conditions, but a few species remain, and others still come to the region, typically from the north. Many of these wintering species show remarkable adaptations to their cold, dark and snow-covered environment.

The goal of this course is to explore the ecology of birds in winter, examining adaptations of various species to surviving under difficult conditions. We will consider factors that limit the geographic distributions of species, particularly at northern latitudes, how species partition habitat and food resources, mixed-species flocking, the importance of food caching, large mammal kills, and roost sites, patterns of movement through the winter, and morphological and physiological adaptations to winter conditions. We will also consider the impacts of global climate change on the wintering distributions and ecology of local species.

Students will learn skills of field identification of birds, recording natural history observations, designing and conducting field studies, and analysis and presentation of results. The field course will focus on the immediate area of the Queen's University Biological Station, but will include day trips to nearby open water and congregations of birds (Wolfe or Amherst Island).

Expect, and come prepared for, extremely cold conditions and deep snow. Hiking in these conditions can be extremely difficult – students should be confident that they are in good physical condition.

2023 tentative itinerary

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