Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Colin Orians


Ecosystem Presentation

(20 minutes/team + 5 minutes for questions) 15% of grade

In teams of two you will first provide a reading for the class to read in advance and then in class you will give an overview of :

  1. the ecosystem’s global distribution
  2. its unique abiotic properties
  3. typical adaptations that organisms in that ecosystem possess

Then you will describe the:

  1. threats to the ecosystem
  2. what is being done to preserve it or to ensure its sustainability

You must provide handouts (key points and references cited) at the time of your presentation. Also turn in an annotated bibliography for six of your sources.

* To get background information on a particular ecosystem consult one of the many volumes of “Ecosystems of the World” published by Elsevier Science.

Research Proposal & Presentation

35% of grade

In teams of two you will propose a research project that can be done when we are at the La Selva Biological Station or at Corcovado National Park. This proposal is not a contract. You may end up doing a completely different project once you have had a chance to see the sites first-hand.

First, you will identify a topic, do a literature review, gather background information, identify a particular paper, and give a 10 min talk to the rest of the class (on 10/20; 5% of grade). This talk is intended to focus on the most interesting question that the selected paper addresses. The background information you provide should be very brief and designed to explain why you think the question is so interesting. Then focus on 1 or 2 tables and figures that address that question. End with a suggestion for further research (Hypothesis and Rationale)

Second, you will write and present a research proposal. For this, you will familiarize yourselves with the methods employed by researchers in the field and adapt them to your problem. This is essential if you are going to design your own experiment. You will give a 20-minute oral presentation (15% of grade) and hand in a written proposal (15% of grade). The oral presentation should give an overview of your topic, explain why it is interesting and significant, and describe the methods you plan to employ. The written proposal should be 8-10 pages in length and must cite at least 7 primary references.


10% of grade

This is a seminar and thus its success depends upon class participation. Thus, you are expected to express your thoughts and ideas when we discuss readings. I may call on you individually if I have not heard from you.

Costa Rica Trip

40% of grade

The trip begins on Dec. 29th and ends on January 13th. We will travel to the Atlantic lowlands (La Selva Biological Station), Pacific lowlands (Sirena-Corcovado National Park) and to the highlands (Copey de Dota). At the two lowland locations you will complete your independent research projects and at the highland site we will meet with local farmers, visit coffee plantation and do forest hikes. During the trip you are expected to keep a journal.

Possible Research Topics

  • Gap dynamics
  • Biodiversity (e.g., ants, vines, etc.)
  • Biodiversity of drought-adapted organisms (or water-loving organisms, such as epiphytes)
  • Frequency of drought adaptations in plants (leaves, stems, roots, etc.)
  • Diversity of leaf or trunk form
  • Ant-Plant interactions
  • Specialization
  • Alternative plant defense strategies in different habitats (morphological vs. chemical)
  • Relative distribution of adult, seedlings and saplings of a focal plant species
  • Habitat partitioning among species of anolis lizards
  • Bark characteristics of trees used by vines
  • Epiphyte community ecology
  • Competitive interactions in contrasting guilds (e.g, hummingbirds vs. frugivorous birds, ground vs. arboreal ants, leaf-cutting vs. predacious ants)
  • Are there competitive hierarchies in ants and hummingbirds? How do the species coexist?
  • Orb-Weaving spiders (I can imagine many different topics)
  • Pollination Biology: Frequency of generalist vs. specialist pollinators on common vs. rare plants species
  • Predicting plant succession: canopy gaps and understory gaps (Where are all the seedlings?)
  • Predation risk: Models, mimics and cryptics

For More Information

The following journals often include studies conducted in the tropics and may help you find your own project:

  • Animal Behavior
  • Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
  • Biotropica
  • Conservation Biology
  • Ecology
  • Journal of Ecology
  • Oecologia
  • Oikos

I encourage you to page through recent issues of these and other journals to get ideas. Or you can visit the following web sites to see what types of projects have been done at:

The La Selva Biological Station:

Corcovado National Park: