Professor Emeritus R. Robberecht
College of Natural Resources | University of Idaho
Moscow, Idaho 83844-1133 USA    208-885-7404
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Blackboard    VandalWeb Account

Quick index
Course & student objectives
Examination schedule & grading
Course outline & readings
Learning achievement targets
Learning tips & Path to mastery

Ecology (NR 321, 3 credits) | This course is not currently offered

Course Description: Fundamental principles of the science of ecology. Major topics covered by the course include the physical environment, how organisms interact with each other and their environment, evolutionary processes, population dynamics, communities, energy flow and ecosystems, human influences on ecosystems, and the integration and scaling of ecological processes through systems ecology. Computer-based materials are used extensively for guided independent learning of ecology. Recommended Preparation: Introductory botany and zoology. Recommended preparation: Introductory botany and zoology, and a good working knowledge of Windows-based computer systems.


Course Objectives
To convey the principles of ecology
Provide examples from ecological studies
Illustrate the application of ecological principles to the management of ecosystems

Student Learning Objectives
- To Achieve Competence in ...
The physical aspects of the environment
Relationships between organisms and their environment
The structure and function of ecosystems


Human influences on the global environment


Student Learning responsibilities

Students are responsible for learning independently to master the course material with the materials provided (e.g., interactive audio lecture slide presentations, interactive lessons, textbooks, and sample examination questions). It is therefore your responsibility to: (1) keep up with the course schedule, (2) master the material as per the learning achievement targets, (3) to regularly review the course announcements, and (4) to regularly study and review previous course material while you learn new material. Consult the Reading assignments and Announcements sections for course schedule and learning achievement targets.


Order online
*: University of Idaho Bookstore (eBook available) | | CampusBooks | Direct from Publisher

Required textbook
Elements of Ecology, 9th Edition. R.L. Smith & T.M. Smith (2015) | Printed and electronic versions available
Optional online study guide from the textbook publisher (used books may not have the coupon for registration)

Recommended references
Oxford Dictionary of Ecology. M. Allaby. 2011.
A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. R.J. Lincoln et al. 1998.
Units, Symbols, and Terminology for Plant Physiology. F.B. Salisbury. 1996.
Dictionary of word roots and combining forms of scientific words, by Tim Williams. 2005.

*These links are provided for your convenience. The University of Idaho and the professor have no connection with, and do  not endorse or support these companies.


Ecology is a comprehensive scientific discipline that is essential to your understanding complex interrelationships in nature. It is essential that you take the initiative to seek out additional readings in ecological journals, books, and magazines at your university.

Course assessments There will three examinations and about 16 quizzes (only the top 10 scores will be part of the total quiz core) during the course. Your proctor will administer the quizzes and examinations at a pre-arranged time and location. The dates for the examinations are fixed, whereas the quizzes can be completed anytime during the semester. Sample examination questions will be posted in the Study section prior to each examination. Use these questions as only one of several study guides to review the course material.

Because of the security limitations of Blackboard Learn, your completed quizzes and examinations will be not be available to you for review. Consultations with the professor about your performance on quizzes and examinations can be arranged via video conferencing and email.


Schedule for examinations and quizzes


Date | *Exam period: 8 a.m. - midnight

Examination I (1 hour) Monday, February 24
Examination II (1 hour) Friday, March 30
Final examination (2 hours, comprehensive)

Students can take extra time on all examinations

Monday, May 11

Quizzes can be taken at your own schedule, but the recommended completed dates are:

Quizzes 1 - 5 February 21
Quizzes 6 - 12 March 27
Quizzes 13 - 16 May 8
*For on-campus students, all assessments will be proctored by the professor (or assistant), by appointment.


*Course assessments and final grading scale



Final Grade
(% of total points)

Examination I


A (90-100%)
Examination II


B (80-89%)
Quizzes (based on 10 quizzes**)


C (70-79%)
Final examination


D (60-69%)



F (< 60%)
**All quizzes and examinations use the Blackboard Learn system and must be proctored in a secure setting.
**Only the top 10 scores from the 16 quizzes will be used in your course grade.
Note. The grade level of "A" represents outstanding performance on the examinations, and the attainment of high competence in the basic principles of ecology and the student learning objectives listed above.

Important dates

Event | UI calendar of events


Course begins January 15
Martin Luther King - Idaho Human Rights Day - UI closed January 20
Final date to withdraw from courses without a grade of "W" January 29
President's Day - UI closed February 17
Spring recess - UI closed March 16 - 20
Final date for withdrawal from course with a grade of "W" April 3
Course ends May 15



Course outline
Learning achievement targets & weekly course schedule


Section I: Introduction to ecology

Section VI: Communities & ecosystems
Section II: Ecology of individual organisms Section VII: Community structure & development
Section III: Physical environment & adaptation Section  VIII: Ecosystems: energy flow
Section IV: Growth & density Section  IX: Ecosystems of the world: A survey
Section V. Species interactions  


  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapter 1 & Glossary
  Lecture Course introduction
  Study Interactive study lesson on "Introduction to Ecology"
    Interactive games on "Events in ecology"
  Handouts Landmark events in ecology by Brewer (1994)
SI units
SI units summary online (NIST)

    A. History

      1. Origins and scope of ecology

        a. Major ecologists and organizations
        b. Divisions of ecology
        c. Professional societies, journals & books
        d. Landmarks in the history of ecology (Handout, Brewer 1994)
        e. International System of units


  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapter 5

    A. The nature of species

      1. Definitions and scope
      2. Definition and scope of ecotypes

    B. Relationships to the abiotic environment

    C. Range of the optimum

      1. Liebig's Law of the Minimum
      2. Shelford's Law of Tolerance
      3. Physiological or potential range and optimum
      4. Ecological range and optimum
      5. Environmental gradients

    D. Phenotype and genotype

    E. Acclimation and adaptation

    F. Energy balance

    G. Animal behavior

    H. Evolutionary considerations

      1. Fitness
      2. Proximate and ultimate factors
      3. Adaptation


  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapters 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 & 10
  Handouts Wavebands

    A. Energy balance

      1. Solar and terrestrial radiation [Solar radiation | Photobiology]
      2. Convection, conduction, and latent heat [Energy balance]
      3. Topographic factors and climate [Climate]

        a. Influence of slope and aspect
        b. Graphing and interpreting climate

EXAMINATION I: Monday, February 24 (target date for completing quizzes 1 - 5: February 21)

    4. Terrestrial versus aquatic environments

B. The response of organisms to their environment

    1. Water relations of organisms

      a. Terrestrial and aquatic water supplies
      b. Transpiration and mechanisms of water transport

        i. Soil water content
        ii. Plant and soil water potential
        iii. Soil water availability
        iv. Permanent wilting point

    2. Photosynthesis

      a. Light, nutrients, water factors
      b. C4, C3, CAM photosynthesis
      c. Productivity

    3. Oxygen exchange and respiration

      a. Adaptations in plants and animals



  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapters 8, 9, & 11
  Review Human population growth

    A. Structure of populations

      1. Birth and death, distribution, dispersion, and density
      2. Demography: life tables, survivorship curves

    B. Growth of populations

      1. Biotic potential or intrinsic rate of increase
      2. Modeling population growth
      3. Age structure

    C. Regulation of populations

      1. Density-dependent and density-independent regulation
      2. Models

    D. Fluctuations and cycles of populations

    E. Evolutionary considerations

      1. Natural selection
      2. r-and k-selection
      3. Evolution of behavior
      4. Group selection
      5. Coevolution
      6. Extinction

    F. Human population structure and growth

      1. Trends and consequences
      2. Influence on the earth and global environmental problems


  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapters 12, 13, 14, & 15
  Study Interactive study lesson on "Species interactions"
  Handout Summary of interactions

    A. Interactions between and among species

      1. Intra- and inter-specific interactions
      2. Introduction and definitions of major species interactions

    B. Herbivory and predation

      1. Trophic interactions
      2. Optimal foraging
      3. Types of herbivores

        a. Plant response to herbivory
        b. Coevolution
        c. Effects on plant productivity
        d. Examples

      4. Types of predators

        a. Predator-prey models
        b. Effects of predators on population size and fluctuation
        c. Defense strategies against predation
        d. Examples

    C. Parasitism, commensalism, protocooperation, and saprobism

      1. Parasitism

        a. Types and prevalence of parasites
        b. Parasite-host interactions
        c. Evolutionary considerations
        d. Examples

      2. Commensalism, protocooperation, and saprobism

        a. Examples
        b. Evolutionary considerations
        c. Effects on the ecosystem

    D. Neutralism and amensalism

      1. Definitions and examples

    E. Allelopathy and competition

      1. Allelopathy

        a. Definition, occurrence, and examples
        b. Evolutionary considerations

      2. Competition

        a. Definition and occurrence
        b. Experimental evidence
        c. Examples
        d. Comparison of competition in plant and animal populations
        e. Evolutionary considerations

          i. The concept of niche and guild
          ii. Character displacement
          iii. Competitive exclusion
          iv. Coexistence

    F. Mutualism

      1. Definition and types of mutualism
      2. Examples
      3. Evolutionary considerations

EXAMINATION II: Friday, March 30 (target date for completing quizzes 6 - 12: March 27)

  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapter 16
    Handout: Cyclic succession (or replacement succession)

    A. The concept of community

      1. Definitions of a community
      2. The system concept
      3. Indirect effects

    B. Community structure

      1. Dominance
      2. Chemical ecology
      3. Species composition
      4. Spatial structure
      5. Synusia and guild
      6. Temporal structure

    C. The niche concept and biodiversity

      1. Fundamental versus realized niche
      2. Niche partitioning
      3. Niche breadth and overlap
      4. The hypervolume and niche models

    D. Community organization and the role of competition

    E. The integrated versus individualistic community

      1. Comparisons with discrete and continuum theories
      2. Theoretical versus practical considerations

    F. Diversity indices


  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapter 17, 18, & 19
    Handout: Cyclic succession (or replacement succession)

    A. Definition and concepts of the community

    B. Types of community change

    C. Analysis of plant communities

      1. Development of communities

        a. Succession

          i. Primary and secondary succession
          ii. Climax
          iii. Stability

      2. Structure and development of animal communities
      3. Examples of sampling methods

    D. Types of communities

      1. Major communities types of the world
      2. Convergent communities
      3. Landscape ecology



  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapter 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, & 27
  Handout: Table 12-4 on NPP of ecosystems

    A. Ecosystem and biome concepts

      1. History and examples
      2. Ecosystem modeling and regulation

    B. Humans and ecosystems

      1. Global environmental problems

        a. Stratospheric ozone depletion
        b. Global climate change
        c. Human population growth

    C. Trophic levels and food webs

      1. Ecosystem energetics
      2. Producers, consumers, and decomposers
      3. Energy pyramids and biomass

    D. Energy flow and productivity

      1. Energy flow through trophic levels
      2. Gross and net primary productivity
      3. Examples

    E. Influence of humans on ecosystem processes

    F. Biogeochemical cycling

      1. Carbon cycle
      2. Nitrogen cycle
      3. Phosphorus cycles
      4. Sulfur cycle
      5. Hydrological cycle


  Readings: Smith & Smith, Chapters 20, 24, 25, 26, & 27
  Study Interactive study lesson on "Biomes"

    A. Introduction

      1. Physiognomy
      2. The concept of biome

    B. Terrestrial ecosystems & biomes

    C. Aquatic ecosystems & biomes

    D. Global change: Ecosystems & biomes

     (target date for completing quizzes 13 - 16: May 8)