Course Syllabus: BIOL 1470 – Conservation Biology
Conservation Biology is the scientific study of the phenomena that affect the maintenance, loss,
and restoration of biological diversity. Topics covered include: 1) the impacts of global warming,
species invasions, and habitat destruction on biodiversity, 2) strategies developed to combat
these threats, and 3) a consideration of key economic and ethical tradeoffs. Special attention will
be paid to current debate and controversy within this rapidly emerging field of study.
Objectives: To introduce students to the field of conservation biology. To enable them to make
informed conservation decisions of local, national and international concern.
Lecture: 9:00-10:20 Tuesday and Thursday, Solomon Center, Room 203
Discussion Sections: Wednesdays (Times to be determined), Walter Hall, Conference Room
Office Hours: Wednesdays (Times to be determined), Walter Hall, Room 302
Instructor: Dov F. Sax, firstname.lastname@example.org, 401-863-9676
Teaching Assistant: Matt Heard, email@example.com, 401-863-2789
Required Text: Essentials of Conservation Biology, Fourth Edition, by R.B. Primack
Week 1: Required Reading:
Sept 4 – Course Introduction – Penn and Teller Video None
Sept 9 – The nature and function of biological diversity Chapters 1-2
Sept 10 – Discussion I: Functioning of novel ecosystems See below
Sept 11 – Distribution of biodiversity Chapter 3
Sept 16 – Earth history and changes in species distributions None
Sept 17 – Discussion II: “Re-wilding” See below
Sept 18 – Speciation None
Sept 23 – Extinction: Overview Chapters 7-8
Sept 24 – Discussion III: Setting priorities for new and old species See below
Sept 25 – Habitat destruction, species-area relationships and extinction Chapter 9
Sept 30 – Global climate change and extinction None
Oct 1 – Discussion IV: Extinction risk from climate change See below
Oct 2 – Species invasions, part I – large scale patterns and issues Chapter 10
Oct 7 – Species invasions, part II – local scale patterns and issues None
Term paper outline due
Oct 8 – Discussion V: invasions, ethics and objectivity See below
Oct 9 – Guest Lecture by Professor Katherine Smith on “Infectious None
disease, the wildlife trade and conservation”
Oct 14 – Species saturation and change in species diversity None
Oct 15 – Discussion VI: A) Are exotic-based increases in diversity See below
beneficial? and B) Critiquing the Mill. Ecosys. Assessment
Oct 16 – Minimum viable populations and extinction debt Chapters 11-12
Oct 21 – Midterm Exam None
Oct 22 – No discussion sections None
Oct 23 – Conservation strategies: Overview Chapters 13-14
Oct 28 – Assisted migration and translocation None
Oct 29 – Discussion VII: Assisted migration See below
Oct 30 – Guest lecture by Prof. Heather Leslie on “Marine Chapters 15-16
reserves and marine protected areas”
Nov 4 – Designing terrestrial reserves Chapter 18
Nov 5 – Discussion VIII: Hotspots vs. coldspots See below
Nov 6 – Conservation management Chapter 17
Nov 11 – Conservation Evidence None
Nov 12 – Discussion IX: Advocacy and conservation See below
Nov 13 – Guest lecture by David Gregg, Director of the Rhode None
Island Natural History Survey, on “Conservation in RI”
Nov 18 – Ethics and conservation Chapter 6
Nov 19 – Discussion X: Animal rights vs. conservation priorities See below
Nov 20 – Environmental economics Chapters 4-5
Nov 25 – Sustainable development Chapters 20-21
Nov 26 – No discussion sections – Draft Term paper due None
Nov 27 – No lecture - Thanksgiving Holiday None
Dec 2 – Environmental law and policy None
Dec 3 – Discussion XI: Religion, human welfare and conservation See below
Dec 4 – Agenda for the future Chapter 22
Dec 9 – No lecture (reading period)
Dec 10 – No discussion sections (reading period)
Dec 11 – No lecture (reading period)
Dec 12 – Final Exam
Dec 16 - Term Paper Due by 4PM
Required Readings For Discussion Sections:
Discussion I: Functioning of Novel Ecosystems
Janzen, D. 1985. On ecological fitting. Oikos 45: 308-310.
Gray, A. 2004. The parable of Green Mountain: massaging the message. Journal of
Biogeography 31: 1549-1550.
Wilkinson, D.M. 2004. The parable of Green Mountain: Ascension Island, ecosystem
construction and ecological fitting. Journal of Biogeography 31: 1-4.
Wilkinson, D.M. 2004. Do we need a process-based approach to nature conservation?
Continuing the parable of Green Mountain Ascension Island. Journal of Biogeography
Williams, J.W. and Jackson, S.T. 2007. Novel climates, no-analog communities, and
ecological surprises. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5: 475-482.
Discussion II: “Re-wilding”
Donlan, J. et al. 2005. Re-Wilding North America. Nature 436: 913-914.
Janzen, D.H. and Martin, P.S. 1981. Neotropical anachronisms: The fruits the Gomphotheres
ate. Science 215: 19-27.
Miscellaneous authors responses in Nature (2005) to Donlan et al. (“re-wilding”) article
Discussion III: Setting priorities for new and old species
Allendorf, F.W. et al. 2001. The problems with hybrids: setting conservation guidelines.
Trends in Ecology and Evolution 16: 613-622.
Anonymous Dingo Wikipedia entry 2008.
Anonymous Red Wolf Wikipedia entry 2008.
Discussion IV: Extinction risk from climate change
Miscellaneous author responses in Nature (2004) to Thomas et al. (climate-based extinction).
Skelly, D.K. et al. 2007. Evolutionary responses to climate change. Conservation Biology
Thomas, C.D. et al. 2004. Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427:145-148.
Discussion V: Invasions, ethics and objectivity
Brown, J.H. and Sax, D.F. 2004. An Essay on some topics concerning invasive species.
Austral Ecology 29:530-536.
Brown, J.H. and Sax, D.F. 2005. Biological invasions and scientific objectivity: Reply to
Cassey et al. 2005. Austral Ecology 30:481-483.
Cassey, P. et al. 2005. Concerning invasive species: Reply to Brown and Sax. Austral
Ricciardi, A. 2007. Are modern biological invasions an unprecedented form of global
change? Conservation Biology 21: 329-336.
Discussion VI: A) Are exotic-based increases in diversity beneficial? and B) Critiquing the
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Briggs, J.C. 2008. The North Atlantic Ocean: Need for proactive management. Fisheries
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – Biodiversity Synthesis
Discussion VII: Assisted migration
Hoegh-Guldberg, O. et al. 2008. Assisted colonization and rapid climate change. Science
McLachlan, J.S. et al. 2007. A framework for debate of assisted migration in an era of
climate change. Conservation Biology 21:297-302.
Richardson et al. (in review)
Discussion VIII: Hotspots vs. coldspots
Karieva, P. and Marvier, M. 2005. Conserving biodiversity coldspots. American Scientist 91:
Miscellaneous author responses in American Scientist (2005) to biological coldspots paper.
Myers, N. et al. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403:853-858.
Sax, D.F. et al. (in prep)
Discussion IX: Advocacy and conservation
Chan, K.M.A. 2007. Value and advocacy in conservation biology: crisis discipline or
discipline in crisis? Conservation Biology 22:1-3.
Lackey, R.T. 2007. Science, scientists, and policy advocacy. Conservation Biology 21:12-17.
Noss, R.F. 2007. Values are a good thing in conservation biology. Conservation Biology
Discussion X: Animal rights vs. conservation priorities
Miscellaneous Responses to Perry and Perry (2008).
Perry, D. and Perry, G. 2008. Improving interactions between animal rights groups and
conservation biologists. Conservation Biology 22:27-35.
Griggs, G.W. 2007. Eradication of Santa Cruz Island pigs deemed a success. Los Angeles
Discussion XI: Religion, human welfare and conservation
Awoyemi, S.M. 2008. The Role of religion in the HIV/AIDS intervention in Africa: A
possible model for conservation biology. Conservation Biology 22:811-813.
Chan, K.M.A. et al. 2007. When agendas collide: Human welfare and biological
conservation. Conservation Biology 21:59-68.
Wilhere, G.F. 2007. The how-much-is-enough myth. Conservation Biology 22:514-517.
http://www.arcworld.org/ (spend at least 20 minutes on this site)
Midterm Exam – 20% of final grade
Final Exam – 30% of final grade (this will be a cumulative exam)
Term Paper – 25% of final grade
Discussion Section – 25% of final grade (quizzes and participation)
Attendance at Discussion Sections:
Attendance and active participation in discussion sections is mandatory; each missed discussion
section will result in 0 points for participation and the quiz of the day. Your lowest quiz and
participation score for an individual discussion section, i.e. for one day, will be dropped from the
final discussion section grade; in effect, this allows you to miss one discussion section without a
penalty. Note that quizzes will be held at the beginning of discussion sections; if you are late you
will miss the opportunity to take the quiz and receive 0 points on the quiz.
There will be no make up examinations with the following exceptions: 1) an agreement reached
between the student and instructor prior to the examination, and 2) an unplanned event, such as a
medical condition, traffic accident, et cetera, together with appropriate evidence of the event.
Term Paper and Scheduled Due Dates:
The field of conservation biology is filled with controversy, with different ethical perspectives,
different interpretations of scientific evidence, and different economic valuing techniques all
leading groups and individuals to hold widely varying perspectives on what solutions are optimal
to the many conservation challenges facing society today. In this course, particularly in
discussion sections, we will focus on some of these controversies. The purpose of this writing
assignment is for you to explore a controversy in conservation, to dissect the merits and basis of
the opposing viewpoints, and to interject a scientific perspective into the debate by advocating a
particular viewpoint that you can defend on scientific grounds. You can choose any conservation
controversy that interests you, except for ones that are being discussed in discussion section. The
best place to look for ideas on current controversies is in the primary literature, particularly in
journals like “Conservation Biology” or “Biological Conservation”. In the final paper you must
reference no less than 12 sources from the primary literature (i.e. journal articles) to support your
Paper Outline - Due Tuesday, October 7 (in class)
In your outline you must briefly describe (in a single paragraph) the conservation controversy
you will be examining, clearly indicating at least two divergent viewpoints discussed in the
literature. You should also list at least 4 of the journal articles you plan to cite in your references.
Draft of Paper - Due Wednesday, November 26 (in discussion section)
Although a “draft” is due on this day, you should try your best to turn in a product that is
completed or close to completion. This will be your only opportunity to get feedback on the
paper before you are graded on the “final paper”. The paper should be written in type 12 font,
double spaced, with one-inch margins on each page, and the text of the paper should occupy
between 8 and 10 pages. An additional sheet or sheets should be added to list your references
(minimum of 12), which should be listed according the format in the journal “Conservation
Final Paper - Due Tuesday, December 16 (by 4PM to Mailbox marked “Sax” in Walter Hall)
You are free to structure the paper in anyway that seems reasonable. However, most papers will
likely benefit from using the structure described below. First, write an introductory paragraph or
set of paragraphs describing the controversy and providing enough background information to
set the controversy into a conservation context. Second, write a set of paragraphs that explore
each of the divergent perspectives that exist (or that you are choosing to focus on – remember
you need at least 2 different viewpoints). Third, write a paragraph or set of paragraphs where you
advocate and defend a particular viewpoint, based on scientific evidence or scientific theory.
Fourth, write a paragraph or set of paragraphs that describes the principal conclusions of this
paper and that explains what the implications of these conclusions are (or should be) for
conservation management and/or policy.
Amendments to the syllabus:
Please note that this course syllabus is a general plan for the course; deviations announced to the
class by the instructor may be necessary.