BIOLOGY 263: Biological Responses to Climate Change

Reader requirements: professional experience in the fields of Ecology, Environmental Science, Conservation Biology, or Evolutionary Biology/Ecology; should be frequent reader of the literature in the field and ideally have some experience in reading research grants.

  1. Course Information
  2. Schedule
  3. Giving Feedback

Course Information

Instructor: Prof. Kathleen Donohue

Climate change is happening now.  This seminar, combined with short lectures, will focus on how organisms, populations, and biological communities are expected to respond to climate change.  While reading the primary literature, we will discuss evidence for effects of climate change on organisms, how to experimentally test for potential effects of climate change, and the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that organisms have–or do not have–that enable them to respond to climate change.

Student Writing Assignments

Assignment 1:  Predicting changes in species distributions in future climates using niche modeling. Students will work with data on current species geographical distributions and with future climate projections. They will present their analysis of how the distribution of a species of their choice is predicted to change with climate change. Write-ups will be in the format of a research paper. The write-up will comprise an Introduction that includes background information on the species, and hypotheses about how the species may change its distribution in future climate; A Methods section that includes a description of the purpose of niche-modeling analysis—what the analysis tests and briefly how it works—and a description of the comparisons that are necessary to address the hypotheses; A Results section that includes a prose description of the results of the analysis (presented as they pertain to the hypotheses being tests) as well as relevant graphs and tables; A Discussion section that presents an interpretation of the results in terms of support or refutation of the hypotheses being tests, and alternative interpretations. Readers will comment primary on the Introduction and the Methods, in order to help students articulate clear hypotheses and help them to clearly describe the purpose of the analysis.

Assignment 2:  Niche model of species overlap in future climates. Using their projections of changes in their species distribution in response to climate change (Assignment 1), students will work as a group to present their analysis of the how species overlap will change in response to climate change. Write-ups will be in the format of a collaborative research paper.  Write-ups will have the same format as Assignment 1. Students can borrow some information from Assignment 1, but they will also need to articulate new hypotheses about how climate change could alter the interactions among the species being analyzed.

Assignment 3:  Grant proposal. Students will write a final term paper in the form of a grant proposal to test some aspect of biological responses to climate change. They will turn in two drafts of this paper throughout the semester, and these drafts will be peer reviewed. Only final versions will be graded. These grants will be in the form of and NSF Graduate Research Fellowship application, although I will allow up to 4 single-space pages, including references. These proposals should include a Background section that clearly articulates the background information to motivate the research and clearly states specific hypotheses to be tested; a Methods section that presents the experimental design used to test the hypotheses; a section on Potential Outcomes that articulates potential results and how those results would be interpreted in terms of the stated hypotheses. Grant proposals will be graded according to the strength of the motivation for the research, the quality of the hypotheses being tested, the appropriateness of the methods used to address the hypotheses, and the clarity with which the student relates the methods to the hypotheses and interprets possible outcomes.

See examples of bios of possible readers for this course


Student – Reader Interactions

Here are the deadlines for students in the reader project:

Term paper/Grant proposal (see course documents below for description)

  • Early draft due to readers Nov 8th
  • Near-final draft due to readers Dec 1st
  • Final draft due in class Dec 8th

Link to course documents:

BIO 263 Climate change schedule Fall 2016

BIO 263: Climate Change Term Paper 2016

BIO 263: Niche Modeling Project_all_2016

Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is the activity around which the entire project is designed. You may have considerable professional experience giving feedback on writing — whether to colleagues, employees, or other contexts — or perhaps this is an fairly novel experience. Given the aims and nature of the Reader Project, we are hoping that our volunteers engage with student writing in a particular way–one that is quite different from what is conventionally done in other contexts.

The primary aim of the project is to help students really understand what it means to write for readers, rather than as a school assignment. Think about the following when you give feedback, whether in writing or in real time:

  • Respond as a reader rather than as an editor. (They can get basic editorial help from others.) Focus on sharing your reactions to the draft as a user of such writing. What are you thinking as you read? More