Evolutionary Ecology
Exploring the diversity of life by integrating ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Topics include theoretical population ecology, advanced evolutionary biology, and behavioral ecology.
 Hours3.0 Credit, 3.0 Lecture, 0.0 Lab
 PrerequisitesBio 350, 420; or equivalents.
 TaughtWinter even years
Course Outcomes: 

Population Growth

Discuss historical development of population growth equations. Derive population growth equations from first principles and modify these to include density dependence. Define equilibrium, and explain global and local stability relative to population growth models. Explain factors that determine growth rates and stability. Calculate growth rates and population sizes given starting conditions.

Life Cycle Diagrams

Generate life cycle diagrams for any life history strategy. Show the link between this diagram and a matrix model, and use this information to populate a matrix model. Use the tools of population matrix modeling to determine growth rate, stable age distribution, and reproductive value. Demonstrate the use of elasticity and sensitivity analysis.

Life History Theory

Discuss historical development of life history theory. Explain trade-off models and optimality analyses. Discuss the relationship between theoretical life history analyses and empirical studies.

Natural Selection

Explain how natural selection in the wild is studied. Calculate selection gradients and coefficients. Discuss the ideas of contingency versus determinism in driving evolutionary change.


Explore the study of phenotypic plasticity from a historical and current perspective. Explain why plasticity evolves in some cases but not in others; offer your perspective in light of the ‘costs of plasticity’ arguments. Show how to generate reaction norms.

Species Interactions

Describe differences and similarities among several kinds of tight species interactions (host-parasite, plant-pollinator, plant-herbivore, predator-prey, mutualisms, etc.). Describe several ways that these interactions are studied. Link these ideas to the study of co-evolution.

Character Displacement

Describe character displacement. List the criteria required to demonstrate character displacement; what alternative hypotheses exist to explain phenotypic differences among co-occurring species.


Discuss historical development of competition equations and the concept of completion in ecology and evolution. Derive classical competition models as an extension of population growth models. Derive and explain potential outcomes with the use of zero-growth isoclines analysis. Discuss the relationship between theoretical analyses of competition and empirical studies.


Discuss historical development of predator-prey equations and the concept of predation in ecology and evolution. Derive classical predator-prey models as an extension of population growth models. Derive and explain potential outcomes with the use of zero-growth isoclines analysis. Discuss the relationship between theoretical analyses of predation and empirical studies.

Mating Systems

Explain how different mating systems have evolved. Explore the interaction between sexual selection and natural selection.

Cooperation and Altruism

Describe historic and current problems in the study of cooperation and altruism.

Animal Movement

Explain the evolution of animal movement, particularly as it relates to foraging strategies.


Explain possible mechanisms of speciation; describe features common/necessary to all models of speciation as well as unique elements. Explore the possibility of generating a unified framework for understanding speciation.


Complete your own research project in evolutionary ecology. Write up your results as a publishable manuscript for a journal of your choice.


Present your research findings as a scientific talk in our class symposium at the end of the semester.