Conservation Ecology

The 2016 Syllabus for Conservation Ecology


Learning Objectives

  • Clearly enunciate, and develop one’s own philosophical motivation for contemporary conservation (the new conservation, science for nature and people, classic conservation intrinsic values, utilitarian values).
  • Describe what an integrated, complex conservation project is likely to encompass.
  • Describe how scientific concepts have evolved from the 1970s to now in six focal areas (conservation genetics, population biology of threatened species, Habitat loss and fragmentation, management and restoration of ecosystems for biological diversity, managing ecosystem services. Integrating people into conservation strategies in marine and terrestrial environments)
  • Describe the primary laws and policies that drive the decision process for managing natural resources that may utilize science from the six focal areas (e.g., ESA, NEPA, Magnuson Stevens, CBD..)
  • Describe the primary tools used by conservation scientists in each of these six focal areas (MARK, PVA, Occupancy, SDM, MAXENT, Fragstats, Marxan, INVEST, etc).
  • Describe the primary decision support tools that frame conservation decisions (Adaptive Management, Open Standards, Conservation Evidence, Systematic Conservation Planning, Structured Decision Making).



Choosing case studies

We will negotiate a suite of complementary case studies that allow us to cover fundamentals. To do this we need to find cases studies that are domestic and international; terrestrial; freshwater aquatic and marine (or multiple within one case); agency and NGO driven projects; with and without a strong social component (e.g., community based conservation). We would also want a suite of different cases that span jurisdictional boundaries (e.g., multiple countries or multiple agencies) and some mixture of stakeholders (wealth/power groups in developed nations, indigenous people in developing nations).

Case Study Rubric. Things you need to justify when you pitch your proposed case study.

  • The case study must be complex in at least two dimensions
    • Organizational level of targets: species and ecosystems, services
    • Organizations: Entities making decisions, agencies
  • Project must identify multiple potentially competing values
    • (e.g., human livelihoods, resource protection)
  • You must be able to identify the decision process
    • NEPA, Forest Plan, Management plan
  • Identify and focus on primary scientific uncertainties
    • g., the likely biological outcomes of management action
  • Trade-offs in actions
    • Limited budgets, everything from science to action is prioritized. This includes the relative effort between action and monitoring of outcomes.
  • Accessible and digestible information
    • Contact people can be identified
    • Some familiarity with the system
    • Avoid overwhelming complexity
  • Science plan for 5-10 year window



The class will identify four types of readings:

  • Fundamental readings: these are classic or otherwise highly influential papers in conservation ecology corresponding to lecture topics. These are the classics that help define where a topic came from as it applies to conservation research.
  • Current readings: Readings to provide reference to the kinds of research that has advanced conservation science.
  • Prospective readings. Review or perspective type readings that consider where research under a particular topic area may be going in the future.
  • Discussion readings: Readings focused on the use of tools to aid conservation research. Examples: spatial prioritization tools, occupancy modeling, connectivity models, distribution models, climate change models.

Lectures / Discussions

Tuesdays we meet for 80 minutes and Thursdays for 140 minutes (with a break):

  1. First 2.5 weeks: Class time will be divided between background material for translating conservation science into practice and choosing focal case studies.
  2. Core 6 weeks: Class time will be divided each week into three units. Three lecture discussion units. Lectures will be supported by a 15 minute youtube video lecture that you need to view prior to class and ~30 of class lecture. Each will be followed by 15 minutes of discussion. These will follow the sections of your term papers: retrospective (youtube), accomplishments (lecture) and prospective (discussion). Be prepared to discuss the topic.
  3. Final 1.5 weeks. Groups will present their project plans. Each group will have 1 hour to present. Presentations will be 35 minutes long, leaving 25 minutes for thorough cross-examination.


 Topics and schedule: to be fit to the projects we select.

Week 1. Introduction to Conservation Ecology

Course Structure and Case Studies.

  1. Foundational concepts of conservation
  • Conservation, conservation ecology and conservation science.
  • The ‘new’ conservation ‘debate.’
  • Beliefs, values and actions
    • Intrinsic vs utilitarian motivations for conservation.
    • Integrating values into science.
  • Course Structure and case studies.



Week 2. Sub-species level conservation / choosing case study topics

Conservation Genetics Conserving evolutionary process

Conserving evolutionary process

Week 3. Primer to Conservation Laws and Policies

Species: The Endangered Species Act: SARA; Red Lists

Systems: NEPA, Federal Agency long range planning documents (e.g.,Forest Plans)


Week 4 – 8.5. Topics as needed based on case studies

Format: 15 min youtube Schwartz on each topic; 30 min of lecture split negotiated between Schwartz and student; 20 minutes of focused group discussion centered around the problem with respect to the case study. 2-3 “topics” per week.

Approximately 40 minutes each Thursday will be comprised of progress reports on case studies (10 min each).

Week 4: Identify conservation targets and threats.

Week 5: Assess the decision context, stakeholders and the role of scientific information.

Week 6: Status assessment of science needs relative to action opportunities.

Week 7: Identify focal uncertainties that can be reduced via science; integrating science into decisions.

Week 8: Preliminary decision tree linked to science prioritization plan.

Likely lecture topics:

Population Targets: Population Viability Analysis; Habitat Occupancy, Mark Recapture data methods; Species distribution models; Projecting distributions using climate models.

Community / Ecosystem Targets: Hotspots; Reserve Design; Spatial Prioritization techniques (MARXAN); Connectivity and Fragmentation.

Threats: Habitat Loss (Land Sparing, land sharing); Over-exloitation (sustainable yield); habitat degradation (invasive species; climate change);

Management Strategies: Restoration; Community Based Conservation; ICDP’s, MaB,  CBD targets

 Week 9.5 – end. Case Study presentations


Individual Presentations. Each of you will lead at least one lecture / discussion during the quarter. You will be responsible for coordinating readings with me one week with advance so that pre-lecture material fits with the in class discussion material.

Project Presentation.Your group will be responsible for presenting your project. The project will be to develop a conservation science plan for an integrated conservation project. (more on this later). Your group will present and defend your plan to the class during the last two weeks of class. Each group will get an hour to present and be questioned on their plan.

Term paper.The term paper is to provide a mini-review of a topic that you coordinate for lecture. This is 3000 words plus a literature cited. The paper should have: (1) a retrospective section (what are the scientific foundations of this topic); (2) an achievements section (how have studies in this area changed conservation practice or conservation thinking); and a prospective section (what is the prognosis for further advancements in this area of science). Topics will be chosen in the first three weeks. Papers are due on the last day of class.