Biogeography [CRN 31312]

Discipline: Geography
Instructor: Burnett
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1400
End: 1520
Field Work: Day 1 | March 18, 2019 | South Africa
Prerequisites: A minimum of three (3) geography credits Download Syllabus

The spatial patterns of species distributions are widely recognized, but few appreciate the complex causes of these patterns. Biogeography is the study of the spatial patterns of biological diversity, and its causes, both in the present and in the past. Biogeographers synthesize information from a very broad range of fields, including ecology, evolution, paleontology, and climatology. This course will provide the ecological and historical foundations for understanding the distribution and abundance of species, and the changes in distribution and abundance over time.  Further, we will examine the relevance of biogeography during a time of increasing human impact and climate change.

The course begins with an overview of important concepts, including evolutionary mechanisms, earth history, and plate tectonics, as well as concepts of the ecological niche and patterns of distribution at various taxonomic levels.  We also study basic ecological concepts, how species are patterned and dispersed on the landscape, and how these patterns have changed over the relatively recent ice age.  In the second part of the course, we delve into historical biogeography and study why continents and islands have unique assemblages of species, and the effects of mega-extinctions and biotic interchanges between continents. We also return to conservation in a detailed examination of the equilibrium theory of island biogeography, metapopulation theory, and the landscape approach.

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the historical and ecological factors which influence the distributional pattern of life on earth
  • Apply the scientific method and philosophy of hypothesis testing to biogeographic problems
  • Explain how advances in paleontology, climatology, evolution, plate tectonics, and ecology have shaped the modern synthesis of biogeography
  • Understand the primary biogeographical theories and models involved in our understanding of life patterns, including island biogeography, metapopulation, and landscape ecology
  • Understand how biogeography informs and is informed by evolution

Field Work

Country: South Africa
Day: 1
Date: March 18, 2019

From the port of Cape Town, we will travel south to Hermanus, visiting a penguin colony in Stony Point nature preserve along the way.  Hermanus is a small coastal town and home to some of the best land-based whale watching on the planet. Also in Hermanus, we will visit the shark lab at the South African Shark Conservancy, where we will learn from a marine biologist and shark researcher about shark research and conservation efforts in South Africa.

Learning Objectives

1. Explore the biogeography and conservation of two iconic apex predator groups:  cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and sharks
2. Identify cetacean species in the wild (especially southern right whales) and quantify abundance estimates and behaviors
3. Estimate bioenergetic requirement of right whales observed and their ecological impact, and explore the conservation efforts for marine mammal populations off South Africa
4. Learn about shark research and conservation efforts in South Africa and compare the ecological roles and conservation challenges for two important groups of apex predators: marine mammals and sharks