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Environmental Biology - the Biome Approach

Nature of the Sequence

Some History

Biology 102 - The Biome Approach

The Text

The Lab - Biology 103


Nature of the Sequence

Biology 102, Environmental Biology, is the second half of two separate sequences. For many students, it follows Biology 101, Modern Biology, as part of the Introductory Biology Sequence. For others, it follows Geology 101, Environmental Geology, as part of the Environmental Geology Sequence. To confuse things a little more, you should realize that another course, Chemistry 101, is also linked to Biology 101. In any event, Biology 102 is a key course for a lot of students, and making sure there is adequate linkage between it and the courses that precede and follow it is no easy task. We want you to see explicitly how the course is structured and how it links to those other courses, and that is what this discussion will attempt to do.

Some History:

There have been science courses for non-majors at Marietta College for some time. The purpose of these courses was to help non-science majors learn a little bit about the sciences. Biology 101 was one such course. It tried to introduce students to a wide range of issues in Biology. This is similar to the function it serves today, except that now, as part of a sequence, Biology 101 also serves the role of introducing scientific writing and experimentation through the lab component. Since we know that it is part of a sequence, we can introduce these concepts more gradually, knowing that there will be follow-up the next semester. In a similar fashion, since we know that most Biology 101 students will continue on to Biology 102, we could move some of the material on plants and animals to the second semester, leaving room for a more in-depth look at how science works. This was evident in the time we spent showing not simply the results of Darwin's and Mendel's work, but how they came to their conclusions. For those students going on to chemistry, the sequence of topics in Biology 101 moved from the largest levels of biological complexity (ecosystems) to some of the smallest (DNA). In the spring semester those students will work with progressively smaller chemical entities.

We also used to have a year-long sequence for Biology majors. This course went into a lot more detail on a lot more topics than the Biology 101-102 sequence does. We decided to combine the two sequences into one sequence for majors and non-majors. The combined sequence is the Biology 101-Biology 102 sequence, which grew out of the old Biology-Chemistry and Geology-Biology sequences. The re-worked sequence is based on lessons learned from the first few years of sequences, and we are generally happy with them. We hope you are too, and hopefully some of the information here will help you appreciate some of the reasons for the approaches we take.

In the reworking of the sequences we had to make a number of compromises. The most obvious one concerns the level at which we approach the subject. With both majors and non-majors in the class, we need to balance the needs of both groups. The addition of the Environmental Science major will also come to affect this balance as well. In the future, we will learn more of what these majors need from what is their introductory science sequence for their major, and that will affect what we teach. For know, we assume that an Environmental Science major needs to approach Biology 102 as if he or she were a Biology major.

Obviously, we had to throw out some of the stuff we had in the majors course and add things to the non-majors course. Sometimes, looking at the evaluations at the end of the year, we think we made no one happy. Non-majors complain we teach the course for majors; majors complain that important topics are skipped. They're both right to an extent, but we really have tried to put together a course that meets the needs of both groups:

Non-Majors: This course really isn't that hard. It's basic concepts, and we try not to go too fast. You wouldn't believe all the things we eliminated. We especially tried to hold down the number of new terms to the absolute minimum it takes to bring you to the point where you can intelligently follow articles in the popular press on scientific topics. We don't expect you to be biology majors, or to have an extensive background in biology or chemistry. We do need you to be active learners and really apply yourselves. By the way, if you want more biology, there are a number of additional courses you could take in the biology department with the training you receive in Biology 102. You might want to learn about plants or animals and elect to take botany or zoology at a later date, for instance.

Majors: We watered the introductory course down in two main areas, molecular biology and organismal biology. We added a lot of stuff on learning scientific methodology, research skills, report writing, and ecology. We expect that this introductory material will help you do better in your upper-level courses. We also added a course, Biology 131, to the start of the sophomore year to cover, in some detail, the molecular and cellular biology that we pulled from the freshman year. We felt that this material, which some students find more difficult, was not appropriate for the non-majors, and would be better appreciated by the majors, after a year of biology (and maybe chemistry as well). Remember that you also have the option of taking upper-level courses in any area that you think we skimped on in the introductory sequence. For instance, if you want more organismal biology, you can take a full year of both botany and zoology.

Biology 102 - The Environmental Problem/Biome Approach

Biology 101 is organized on a theme from large to small, that is, from ecosystems to DNA. Biology 102 also has a distinctive organization based  largely on environmental problems and the major biomes of the world. This unique approach has some advantages over more traditional approaches, but it does take some getting used to. I hope you will read through this next section so that you'll know what to expect and so that you'll get as much as possible from the course.

We start the course with a review of biomes and ecosystems. For students who have just taken biology, the section linked to the geology section will spend more time here since the material is new to you. In the sections continuing on from Biology 101, this section goes fairly quickly. All sections next move on to an overview of the impacts (environmental problems) that humans cause in ecosystems.

The remaining sections are either organized around environmental problems (such as deforestation, desertification, ozone depletion, etc.) or biomes (deserts, wetlands, lakes, streams, etc.).

A biome, strictly speaking, is terrestrial region where climatic conditions favor the development of a distinct plant community. That's a fancy way of saying that in warm, wet regions you get tropical rain forests, or that in dry areas you get deserts. You are already familiar with these biomes, I'm sure. We are also going to include some aquatic habitats, such as oceans, lakes, rivers, coral reefs, etc. as "biomes".

The climatic conditions that face the plants and animals in each biome also force these organisms to make unique adaptations to survive under the local conditions. These adaptations, in turn, provide excellent starting points for further discussion of how plants and animals solve basic biological problems. For instance, a discussion of deserts would not be complete without an examination of how plants and animals conserve water, and this in turn leads us into a more general consideration of excretory and osmoregulatory mechanisms. Likewise, studying the cold tundra leads to a discussion of how organisms regulate temperature. So, the biome scheme of organization will also lead us through the physiology (how organisms function) of the biomes' inhabitants.

Each biome can, in a similar fashion, serve to highlight environmental problems. The polar regions seem to be a natural point to discuss ozone depletion, while temperate forests lend themselves to an examination of the problems caused by acid rain. As a result, when we study each biome, we will also study aspects of physiology which are most obviously exhibited in that biome, as well as environmental problems most closely linked to that biome. In addition, each biome will also serve to illustrate certain ecological principles that are particularly noticeable in that biome. An example of this would be linking the concept of mutualistic symbiosis to the coral reef, the ecosystem which is based on a symbiotic relationship (between the corals and their photosynthetic dinoflagellate endosymbionts).

Each of the instructors teaching the course has his or her own way of moving through the discussion of the biomes. Some start by describing the biome, then examining the biological and environmental aspects in turn. Others may start by using the biological or environmental aspects as a framework to explore the biome. Yet another approach is to use an environmental issue as a case study that explores the other issues as they come up.

The Text

One potential problem of the biome approach comes when the textbook is considered. In an effort to keep your costs down, we have decided to use one text for Biology 101, 102, and Biology 131. This keeps your costs down, but it should be obvious that requiring one book to cover all these topics may be a stretch. The stretch is most obvious this semester. The book is good, but it is not organized in a biome approach (actually, there are no books we know of that use that approach), and it is a bit thin on environmental issues. This means that we have to jump around in the text, and that we have to use a supplement. Again, to keep costs down, we have worked with the publisher of the supplement to provide you with an edited version of a textbook. The supplement you purchase has only specific parts of the larger text, and this cuts its cost by about 1/2. The quality of the illustrations, however, suffers somewhat in the process. Overall, however, between the textbook and the supplement, you have, at your fingertips, very useful references. With the addition of references in the library and easily available over the Internet, you should be able to answer any questions that might come up as you work your way through the course.

The Lab - Biology 103

At the beginning of the Biology 101-102 lab sequence, both courses were 4 hour courses, which met for 3 hours of class and 3 hours of lab each week. Beginning in 1997-1998, we separated the lab from the lecture courses. Biology 103 is the new lab course. It is part of the sequence, therefore if you want to receive science sequence credit you need to take 101, 102, and 103. Biology 103 is a self contained course that is taught in one semester. The advantages to the students are more credit hours (3) for taking the lab. Under the old system, students had to take the lab for two semesters and got 2 credits for doing the lab, now they get 3 credits and take the lab for one semester. The new lab is more intensive, and uses the best labs from the old Biology 101 and 102 labs. The lab can be taken in either the fall or the spring semester; that is, it can be taken with either Biology 101 or Biology 102.

Lab is your hands-on time to explore. It is also a good time to ask the instructor questions and to work with your classmates. We budget 3 hours for each of the labs, although you will find that some of them do not require that long, particularly if you come to lab prepared (read the lab ahead of time) and if you work efficiently and carefully. One of our goals in the lab is to help teach teamwork, and you will also find that you will learn more, and work more efficiently, if you learn to cooperate in teams.

Overall, there are two basic types of labs. Several are designed to introduce you to living organisms - plants, animals, fungi, etc., as well as how they function. The other type of lab is devoted to experimentation. We have developed the labs and the lab manuals ourselves. Again, this saves you money, but it also allows us to integrate the lab much more closely into the overall course. Still, some of you might be disappointed to find that we don't move right from a discussion in lecture to a demonstration in lab. In order to get things to fit into a year-long course, we had to make sure the lab and the lecture complemented each other, not continued each other. It would be great to move from a discussion of the rain forest to an experiment on mineral leaching in the soil, but we simply don't have time to do that. The lab isn't an extension of the lecture, but rather another part of the course, where, for the most part, different concepts will be explored, and the basic techniques of science will be learned.

For the first type of lab, it is important that you complete the pre-lab assignment. This means going beyond filling in the blanks on the assignment page. It means reading the appropriate material in the lab manual and the textbooks. It means reading all the instructions for the lab as well. If you find yourself simply turning to the pre-lab and paging back and forth between it and the textbook in order to find and write down the "answer", rest assured YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG AND WILL BE MISERABLE AS A RESULT, SINCE YOU WILL NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON, GET FRUSTRATED, HAVE TO STAY LATE, SPILL STUFF ON YOUR CLOTHES, ETC. Really. A little time spent following the instructions, reading, and trying to understand what is going on will help make your lab experience worthwhile. Cutting corners on preparation will make you one frustrated, unhappy camper. As instructors, we have little patience for people who don't come to lab prepared, and we secretly enjoy watching you suffer as a result. Heck, sometimes we openly enjoy watching you suffer. Don't count on a lecture before the lab starts to explain it all either. You're grown up, and we expect you to be able to read the instructions yourself, come to lab, and do it. In some labs there will only be a brief moment where we ask if there are any questions. If, after doing the reading, you don't understand, that's your chance to ask a question and come to an understanding.

Don't get me wrong. We really like you, but please, read the lab beforehand.

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