Environmental and Ecological Courses

Environmental Issues (BIOL 2504)

The issues challenging the stability and integrity our environment are diverse and daunting, but share a common stressor – us! The first phase of the course will introduce the emergence of environmental awareness (Carson, Leopold), and the historical events which galvanized public awareness that our environment is a closed system; what we “throw away”, is not really “away”, but often has an unpleasant tendency to later re-visit us. We will briefly review a broad spectrum of environmental issues, one of which students will present in an essay and group presentation. The second phase of the course will examine in detail the sources, fate, and effects of anthropogenic contaminants, both legacy and emerging, which became contentious in light of this new found awareness. Class discussions of assigned primary literature will expose participants to contemporary research on a range of critical issues facing Canadians. Two field trips to better understand the most significant environmental issues locally, the legacy of mining and industrial pollution, will round out the course.

Natural History of Cape Breton (BIOL 3501)

We will go outside, look at the trees, birds, bugs and ferns. Through learning what they are, we will explore why they thrive in Cape Breton. The geological history, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, the weather and the climate all play a role in understanding the scenic vistas and population changes in the plants, birds and insects that we see every day. People travel thousands of miles to tour Cape Breton. This course will help you understand why.

Stream Ecology (BIOL 3521)

Strap on a pair of hip waders and jump into the babbling brooks and rivers of Cape Breton! This course examines the relationships between the physical and biological aspects of the structure and function of streams with a particular focus on the variety of streams and rivers of Cape Breton. The impact of human activities such as urbanization, forestry, impoundments and agriculture are also addressed in this course. Most laboratory work will be carried out in the field (we provide the hip waders!).

Marine Ecology (BIOL 3523)

Have you ever explored the rocky intertidal shores of Main á Dieu or filled your nostrils with the smell of anoxic sediments from the Morien mudflats? If not, then this may be the course for you. Lectures explore the marine realm, from shallow near shore habitats to the abyssal depths, and from benthic environments to the plankton. Labs will introduce you to many of our local marine habitats, including rocky shores, salt marshes, sand and mud flats, estuaries, and our inland sea – “the Bras d’Or lakes”. “Bring yer wellies” if you plan to take this class! This course is a great choice if you are interested in pursuing a career as a marine biologist, oceanographer, or working for DFO!

Theoretical Ecology (BIOL 4501)

If we had Laws of Ecology, as we have the Laws of Physics, then we would know why, for example, the great cod populations of the NW Atlantic failed to recover after we stopped over-fishing them. But we do not yet have these axioms. Why not? Will we ever have them? Are they worth seeking? This course explores progress towards robust theories of ecological process across a spectrum of biological organization from organism to ecosystem. Professor and students work together through the dead of winter in an interactive, tutorial format to read, think and discuss the Top Ten theories of ecology, including such greats as Optimal Foraging, Island Biogeography, Intermediate Disturbance, Trophodynamics, and the Gaia Hypothesis! There is no lab and no exam. Thirteen stimulating lectures direct reading and reflection towards ten tutorial sessions in which students learn from each other and are assessed on the quality of their comprehension, insights and ideas. A group seminar on a controversial theory and an individual paper critiquing your favourite theory complete the assessed elements. The course prepares you for the intellectual and operational freedom of graduate studies. No one has failed this course, and many enjoy it greatly. The professor always does…

Behavioural Ecology (BIOL 4503)

Behavioural Ecology takes the study of animal behaviour a step further, and asks why animals do what they do. In this course, we learn what animals may gain through particular behavioural choices. We examine the ecological constraints and potential fitness benefits that can contribute to species-specific behavioural decisions. Lectures examine fundamental questions underlying different animal behaviours (cooperation, communication, competition and mate selection), and use Game Theory to explore potential strategies and their evolutionary payoffs. In the lab, these questions are examined experientially by observation and experimental manipulation of live organisms.