Biology 304

Biology 304. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Each of us quite naturally perceives ourself to be at the center of things, but no one would deny that other events ultimately have their influence, too. Likewise, many people unconsciously place humanity at the exact center of the universe. In this view, the utility of anything is measured by how it can be used by humans. For many, everything has its dollar value. Such anthropocentrism is understandable, but narrow and misguided.

It is a worthwhile exercise to imagine that something else, such as a lizard, an oak tree, or an HIV virus, is the focus of the cosmos. From such a perspective, the almighty dollar quickly loses its primacy. Survival and reproduction assume a lot more significance.

Why should I take this course?

Student Evaluations

Professor: Eric R. Pianka

Email Address:

Office and Phone: PAT 125 (471-7472)

Teaching Assistant:
L. Ramki Ramakrishnan PAT 126 (471-1456)

Lectures: Tuesday and Thursday, 1230-2PM, GEA 105

Discussion Sections:

4:30-5:30pm Tuesday, BUR 136
2:00-3:00pm Thursday, RAS 211
4:00-5:00pm Thursday, BUR 134
2:00-3:00pm Friday, BUR 220
8:00-9:00am Friday, WEL 2.312

Prerequisites: This course assumes knowledge of High School algebra and geometry. You will be expected to understand 3D graphs and be able to manipulate simple equations.

Philosophy: I will attempt to teach you the basic ecology and evolution that everyone should know -- I will also do my utmost to encourage you to think.

Text: Pianka, E. R. 1994. Evolutionary Ecology, Fifth Edition. HarperCollins.

Grading and Grades:

A set of sample old exams will be placed on reserve in the UGL Library.


25 September (28 Aug.- 23 Sept.)

30 October (30 Sept.-28 Oct.)

4 December (4 Nov.-2 Dec.)

Best 2 of the above 3 exams will count 25% each (50% total)

The comprehensive final will count for the other 50% of your course grade

Final Exam: Monday, 15 December, 9-12 AM (28 Aug.-3 Dec.)

How to get straight A's

You will be expected to "know" everything the instructor says in lecture, including pauses and nuances, as well as everything assigned in reading assignments. Exams will be in multiple choice format. Each 75 minute exam will cover about one-third of the class. Everyone must take at least two of the three 75 minute exams plus the comprehensive 3 hour final exam at 9-12 AM on monday, 15 December 1997. No "Make Up" exams will be given (if you press us on this, you will get grilled by both the TA and I in a 2 hour private oral examination!). No "extra points" are available.

Final Grades are final, carved in stone, and non-negotiable (please don't even bother to question them!). They are a measure of your own phenotype, and not our reponsibility. We expect you to accept your own performance as an integral part of yourself.

A Texas hognosed snake Heterodon in a threat display.

Outline of Subjects to be covered in the Course

Biology 304 - Ecology and Evolutionary Biology - - Fall 1997

Professor Eric R. Pianka

Introduction: Definitions and Groundwork
The scientific method; domain of ecology, environment; limiting factors, tolerance limits, the principle of allocation; natural selection, self-replicating molecular assemblages; levels of selection, levels of approach to science.

The same hognosed snake Heterodon feigning death.

Population Genetics, Speciation, and Isolating Mechanisms
Gene pools and gene frequencies; Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium; heterosis; gene flow; genetic drift; genetic variation; polymorphisms; ecological genetics. Geographic isolation and speciation, sympatric speciation, species-specific mating behavior, allopolyploidy and autopolyploidy, etc.

Climatology and Vegetation
Determinants of climate; the interface between climate and vegetation; classification of climates and vegetation; microclimate; potential and actual evapotranspiration and productivity; leaf and root tactics; soil biology and succession; some considerations of aquatic ecosystems; the geological past.

Physiological Ecology
Physiological optima and tolerance curves, energetics of metabolism and movement; energy budgets and the principle of allocation; adaptation and deterioration of environment; heat budgets and thermal ecology; water economy in desert organisms; other limiting materials; sensory capacties and environmental cues; adaptive suites and design constraints.

Principles of Population Ecology
Life tables and schedules of reproduction; net reproductive rate and reproductive value; stable age distribution; intrinsic rate of increase; population growth and regulation; Pearl-Verhulst logistic equation; density dependence and independence; r and K selection; population "cycles," cause and effect; metapopulations; evolution of reproductive tactics; evolution of old age and death rates; use of space; evolution of sex; sex ratio; mating systems; sexual selection; fitness and the individual's status in the population; kin selection, reciprocal altruism, parent-offspring conflict and group selection.

Interactions Between Populations
Complex examples of population interactions; indirect interactions; competition theory; competitive exclusion; balance between intraspecific and interspecific competition; evolutionary consequences of competition; laboratory experiments and evidence from nature; character displacement and limiting similarity; future prospects; Predation; predator-prey oscillations; "prudent" predation and optimal yield; theory of predation; functional and numerical responses; selected experiments and observations; evolutionary consequences of predation: predator escape tactics; aspect diversity and escape tactic diversity; coevolution; plant apparency theory; evolution of pollination mechanisms; symbiotic relationships.

Community Ecology
Classification of communities; interface between climate and vegetation; plant life forms and biomes; leaf tactics; succession; transition matrices; aquatic systems; community organization; trophic levels and food webs; the community matrix; guild structure; primary productivity and evapotranspiration; pyramids of numbers, biomass, and energy; energy flow and ecological energetics; saturation with individuals and with species; species diversity; diversity of lowland rainforest trees; community stability; evolutionary convergence and ecological equivalents; ecotones, vegetational continuua, soil formation and primary succession; evolution of communities.

Classical biogeography; biogeographic "rules;" continental drift; island biogeography; species-area relationships; equilibrium theory; compression hypothesis; islands as ecological experiments: Krakatau, Darwin's finches, and other examples; applied biogeography and the design of nature preserves.

To go to Pianka Lab Homepage

Last updated 4 April 1997 by Eric R. Pianka