BIOL 953 Seminal Readings in Ecology

Monarch butterfly perched on aster flowers

Welcome to the Biol 953 webpage

What papers should all ecologists be very familiar with?  This graduate-level course will be focussed on student-led seminars of a wide range of writings that are considered really core to the advances ecology has made in the last 100 years. Each week we will discuss a major concept in ecology by considering the contribution of key primary papers to the development of that concept. Together, we will identify and explore the origins and development of a wide range of ecology’s fundamental concepts. For example, depending on student interest, we could address the concepts of ‘niche’, ‘diversity’, ‘competition/disturbance’, ‘physiological trade-offs’, ‘scale’ and ‘sustainability’ by reading and discussing such seminal papers as:

Grinnell’s The Niche Relationships of the Californian Thrasher; and Hutchinson’s Concluding Remarks

Hutchinson’s Homage to Santa Rosalia; or, Why are there so many kinds of animals?; and Ehrlich and Ravens’ Butterflies and Plants: A study in Coevolution

Connell’s The influence of interspecific competition and other factors on the distribution of the barnacle Chthamalus stellatus; and Lindeman’s The Trophic-Dynamic aspect of Ecology

Physiological trade-offs:
Garnier’s Resource capture, biomass allocation and growth in herbaceous plants; or Coley’s Resource availability and plant anti-herbivore defence

Levin’s The Problem of Pattern and Scale in Ecology; and Turner’s Landscape Ecology -  The effect of Pattern on Process

Ecological sustainability:
Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons; and Costanza’s The Value of the World's Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital

Additional or alternative papers that are central to the origin of other fundamental concepts in any aspect of ecology will be identified by participants as the course develops. The overall goal of the course is to chart the history, subsequent development, and future direction of a broad selection of the fundamental concepts in ecology by familiarizing participants with some of ecology’s most seminal papers.

Assessment: Students will choose an ecological concept that particularly interests them, and present a seminar and write an essay paper for group discussion and assessment.

Professor: Paul Grogan

Seminar Times: To be mutually determined by consultation with all registered students

Location: Room to be determined, Biosciences building



30% Seminar
15% Participation in discussion
15% Typed questions for the seminars
40% Research Paper (20% initial draft; 20% final paper)


Instructor approval to determine level of interest and enthusiasm for learning about the core concepts in ecology.
Upper-level undergraduate courses in ecology, microbiology, physical geography, and geology would be helpful.


Week beginning Day and time Convenor Concept Seminar question Reading
09 January Wed. 16.30 Paul Organisational meeting    
16 January Thursday 10.45 Casper Christiansen Optimal allocation theory in organisms How has our understanding of nutrient acquisition and allocation in organisms progressed? Chapin FS, Schulze ED, Mooney HA (1990). The Ecology and Economics of Storage in Plants. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 21: 423-447
23 January Thursday 10.45 Emily Stewart Controls on species richness in ecological communities How do the controls on species diversity differ between plants and animals? Hutchinson, G.E. (1959). Homage to Santa Rosalia; or Why are there so many kinds of animals? The American Naturalist 93: 145-159
30 January Thursday 10.45 Samantha Tavenor Ecological integrity How has the framework of ecological integrity evolved over the years, and what is its use in policy and environmental management? Karr, J.R. and Dudley, DD. (1981) Ecological perspective on water quality goals. Environmental Management 5(1):55-68
6 February Thursday 10.45 Stefan Bengtson Competitive Exclusion Is the competitive exclusion principle still useful in understanding the role of competition in structuring ecological communities?

Hardin, G. (1960) The Competitive Exclusion Principle. Science 131 1292-1297; Hutchinson, G.E. (1961) The Paradox of the Plankton The American Naturalist 95 137-145.

13 February Thursday 10.45 Alex Djorjevic Sustainability What are the constraints on using the 'Tragedy of the Commons' as a framework for ecological management? Hardin, G. (1968) The Tragedy of the Commons. Science 162 (3859): 1243-1248

20 February

(Reading week)

Thursday 10.45 Stephanie Greer Evolutionary ecology: Interactions within and between species What are the key factors underlying the initiation and maintenance of cooperation within species, and between species? Axelrod, R., and Hamilton, W. (1981) The Evolution of Cooperation. Science 211 (4489): 1390-1396
27 February Thursday 10.45 Kimberley Lemmen Metacommunities How has the metacommunity concept changed our understanding of community structure? Leibold, M.A. et al. (2004) The metacommunity concept: a framework for multi-scale community ecology. Ecology Letters 7:601-613
5 March Thursday 10.45 Brian Kielstra Scale in Ecology How does using the transfer of information between scales affect the predictive capacity of our work in ecology?

Levin, S. A. (1992) The problem of pattern and scale in ecology. Ecology, 73: 1943-1967

  Friday 14.30 Michelle Mazzocato Disturbance How has the concept of ecological disturbance developed over time? Connell, J.H. (1978) Diversity in Tropical Rainforests and Coral Reefs. Science 199: 1302-1310
12 March Thursday 10.45< Ariel Gittens Food web dynamics: Impacts of invasive species What role do "top predators" play in maintaining species diversity? Paine, R. (1966) Food Web Complexity and Species Diversity. The American Naturalist 100: 65-75
  Friday 14.30 Allyson Parker Evolutionary ecology How important is natural selection in today's ecology? Gould, S.J. and Lewontin, R.C. (1979) The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptionist programme. Proceeding of the Royal Society London B 205:581-598
19 March Thursday 10.45 Floxy Akhuetae The niche concept and how it may apply to human societies How does the niche concept relate to human societies? Grinnell, J. (1917) The Niche Relationships of the Californian Thrasher. The Auk 34: 427-433
26 March Thursday 10.45 Sarah Allux Deep ecology's links to ecosystem ecology How have Odum's ecosystem development theory and Naess's theories of deep ecology contributed to our present understanding of “the ecosystem”?

Odum, E. P. (1969) The strategy of ecosystem development. Science 164:262-270;
Naess, A. and G. Sessions. (1984) Basic principles of deep ecology. Earth First 4:3-4.

2 April Thursday 10.45 Paul Synthesis    

Last Updated: 11th June 2012