Conservation Biology (Biology 45300)

An Ecology Course for the Spring of 2014 with RF Rockwell


This course meets in a secure area of the American Museum of Natural History.  Until I can arrange access for each student, please go to the Security Desk at the Central Park West  entrance (1st floor beneath the steps) no later than 9:15.  We will meet you there and go to the classroom.  Thanks!

 ***You can get your ID card from 10-1 and 2-4 at security desk***

Is this polar bear upset because global climate change is thawing the arctic?

Could it be he is hungry since the warming makes it more difficult to catch seals? Could it be that he is tired of humans thinking he (and his species) can not again survive a period of warming?

This is one of many problems we will examine this Fall semester in Conservation Biology. We will also examine how simple models coupled with natural history can be applied to complex, real-world situations. We will explore demography, population dynamics (including epidemics), community dynamics (including herbivory, predation, and competition) and ecosystem functioning (including nutrient cycling and energy flow).

We will draw on real world studies and problems involving various animal and plant species that are in some sort of trouble. We will also explore how hard science often has to be softened to reach conservation goals acceptable to a diverse society.

You will gain personal experience at this by advocating for an endangered or threatened species and part of your grade will depend on your success.

The course meets on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 12:15 in the Ornithology classroom at the American Museum of Natural History. It is limited to 24 students.

The Text for the course is: Primack, RB. 2010. Essentials of Conservation Biology, Fifth Edition, Sinauer, Sunderland. ISBN: 978-0-87893-640-3.

Contact information for rf rockwell is:

212.769.5795 and (subject=conservation biology) to avoid the spam pit.


date topic reading
01/29 conservation biology and biological diversity  chapters 1-2
02/05 more on biodivdersity and its global distribution  chapters 2-3
02/12 no classes

02/19 biodiversity and its value: economic and ecological chapters 4-5
02/26 biodiversity and its value: indirect and ethical chapters 5-6

threats to biodiversity: extinction and vulnerability          project species choice due

chapters 7-8
03/12 threats to biodiversity: habitat, environment, exploitation, invasives and disease  chapters 9-10
03/19 population biology chapters 11-12
03/26 reintroductions and ex situ conservation chapters 13-14
04/02 practical applications
 chapters 15-19
04/09 practical applications
 chapters 15-19
04/16 spring break  
04/23 student presentations
04/30 student presentations  
05/07 student presentations and a review for the exam
05/14final exam

readings are from Primack, RB. 2011. Essentials of Conservation Biology, Fifth Edition.

Your grade in the course will be based on a final exam (40%), your oral (25%) and written (25%) presentation of your endangered species or habitat project and (10%) on class participation during the weekly conservation events portion of the class.

You must select your endangered species by 02/26 or I will assign one you have never heard of.  Only one person can have a given species and it is first come first served.

Student presentations will begin 04/23 and the names will be listed above. On a given date, order of presentation will be by draw of a card. Remember you have 15 only minutes for your presentation followed by 5 minutes of questions and discussion.

Your written report (no more than 5 pages, double spaced and at least 10 pitch) are due 05/17/14.


Endangered Species Project Topics

For your endangered species, you must consider the following:

1. Basic biology of the species that is relevant to its being endangered.

2. Historic population size and distribution

3. Current population size and distribution

4. What are the primary causes of the change in population size and distribution?

5. What actions are being taken to “help” the species? (e.g. what are the recommendations in the endangered specie’s management plan?)

6. Do you think these are the appropriate actions? Why?

7. What would you do to “help” the species?

Best starting point for your project is the red list of endangered species


Educational goals

1. examine the reasons underlying our attempts at conservation.
2. realize that solutions are not simple and often lead to more environmental problems than they resolve.
3. realize that "conservation biology" is not really biology per se as it involves making value judgements.
4. learn to use a variety of informational outlets including published literature but also government reports, media outlets, etc.
5. come to understand that in resolving conservation issues no one view is going to prevail - compromise is required.
6. success at preserving a species only comes from thorough knowledge and thoughtful presentation of facts to the public.


last revised 12/19/13