Following are some focal topic areas that have been assigned to guide preparation for the written component of EEB qualifiying exams. Links are to the eventual question that was posed for the written exam.
Food webs, trophic structure, and the role of abiotic forces (especially temperature). Consider green webs and brown webs, including basal resources. (eventual question)
Drivers, feedbacks, and pattern-process relationships in ecosystem disturbance systems, with special reference to biotic disturbance and the challenges of scale. (eventual question)
Evolution of continuous traits (eventual question)
The intersection of forest science and ecology
Identify and master the prominent intellectual topics that connect forest science and ecology. For example:
1. The topics of intraspecific competition and self-thinning from classical academic ecology are broadly overlapping with the theory and practice of managing forests for sustainably high growth and yield of forest products – and both areas overlap with the interests of ecosystem scientists in carbon flux and carbon life cycles.
2. The practical challenge for foresters of managing pests and pathogens in high productivity systems is linked to rich basic research on plant allocation theory, plant defenses, population dynamics, top-down vs. bottom-up controls, and diversity – stability relations, among others.
3. Choice of tree species in intensively managed forest production systems is related to invasion ecology (e.g., enemy release hypothesis and related ideas),
4. Find other such examples. (eventual question)
Semiochemicals, movement, and aggregation.
Semiochemicals, communication, movement, and aggregation behavior in animals; with emphasis on evolutionary and mechanistic processes, as well as implications for dispersal, dispersion, and spatiotemporal patterns in abundance. (eventual question)
Plant-herbivore interactions, with special reference to evolutionary processes. (eventual question)
Carbon fluxes and pools in terrestrial ecosystems (eventual question)
Plant population and community ecology (eventual question)
Vegetation mediated feedback systems in ecosystems, e.g. feedbacks between vegetation-soil, vegetation-climate, and vegetation-animals. (eventual question)
Plant-herbivore interactions (including but not restricted to chemical ecology, nutritional ecology, plant defense theory, and foraging behavior). Consider the gamut of taxa and ecosystem types. Note the historical development of important ideas. (eventual question)
Temperature and biological processes: How does temperature influence biological processes at various levels of biological organization? What are emergent properties from increased levels of biological complexity, and what patterns are predictable? (eventual question)
Sexual Selection Theory (eventual question)
Thermal physiology, ectotherms, and climate change (eventual question)
Strengths and weaknesses of using microbes to test ecological and evolutionary theory (eventual question)
Molecular Evolution (eventual question)
Spatial ecology and evolution (eventual question)
Population ecology (eventual question)
Multi-species plant-animal interactions
There is growing recognition that community context can alter the direction and intensity of pairwise species interactions. Be able to invoke theory and empirical work from community and evolutionary ecology to compare and contrast how community context can alter the ecological and evolutionary consequences of pairwise interactions. Are there patterns that transcend multiple interaction types? Do not limit yourself to multispecies mutualisms. You should consider other types of plant-animal interactions, and in fact, some of the best work on multispecies interactions may lie outside of the plant-animal interactions realm. (eventual question)
Speciation and community ecology (eventual question)
Spatial population dynamics: major theories, models, and empirical findings (eventual question)
How does temperature affects the properties of consumer-resource dynamics? Focus on literature at the intersection of thermal
physiology and community ecology; characterize and understand the intellectual merit of an improved understanding of thermal affects on
species interactions. (eventual question)
Environmental chemistry and chemical limnology, with a focus on fate and transport of C,N,P,O, Hg and Cd in aquatic ecosystems
Ecology and evolution of host-pathogen (and host-parasite) interactions (eventual question)
Plant physiological ecology and ecosystem ecology (eventual question)
Pollination Ecology (eventual question)
The linkage between food web structure and ecosystem functioning, including energy flows, nutrient cycling, and stability. (eventual question)
Life history theory (eventual question)
The ecology of invasions (focusing on but not necessarily limited to plants).
Phylogeography and landscape genetics, particularly with regard to how spatial heterogeneity at a variety of spatial scales can produce genetic structure in populations over varying temporal scales. (eventual question)
Phylogenies (eventual question)
Epidemiology: e.g., what is it; what are the important theories, data, papers and research trajectories; how does epidemiology intersect with ecology and evolution; how does it relate to "emerging infectious diseases"?
Physiological ecology of arthropods, with emphasis on consequences for distribution and abundance (eventual question).
Population genetics (eventual question)
Pollination ecology (eventual question)
Life history theory with an emphasis on similarities and differences between plants, animals, and microbes (including fungi). (eventual question)
The biology of communication (eventual question)
Master the three major theoretical models of phenotypic selection:
(1) the types that lead to and flow from Fisher's Fundamental Theorem,
(2) formulations developed from Price's equation, and
(3) the more empirically directed formulations of Lande, Arnold and Wade.
You should become fluent in the various derivations of each of these major conceptualizations of selection. This would include the fundamental underlying assumptions of each, ways in which each is applied, the types of system features each is trying to capture, when each is and is not useful, and the relationships between them. (eventual question)
Natural selection in the early life stages of plants (includes seed and seedling predation/herbivory, i.e. these aspects of consumer-resource relations). (eventual question)
Disturbance, community stability, and spatial heterogeneity especially quantifying and analyzing it. (eventual question)
How does the spatial and temporal distribution of resources influence the evolution of social systems and movement behavior (dispersal and migration)? In addition to ungulates, pay particular attention to other groups (e.g., birds, insects, etc.). (eventual question)
Insect ecology. Identify about 10 of the most important theories to arise from studies of insect ecology. A good list will include fundamental contributions to ecology writ large (e.g., physiological ecology, population ecology, community ecology, ecosystem science, and evolutionary ecology). Be able to summarize the theories, their significance, and their current status. Know the important model systems and the key scientists. Be able to explain why other theories did not make your list. Consider where insect ecology is likely to make its greatest contributions in the next decade. (eventual question)
The evolutionary and ecological consequences of omnivory (eventual question)
Global change freshwater ecology: What are the large predicted drivers of ecological change in freshwater systems, and how will these drivers interact with one another? (eventual question)
How movement across landscapes alters local food web interactions. (eventual question)
The evolutionary ecology of mutualisms vs. other species interactions.
Be able to invoke theory and empirical work from community ecology and evolutionary biology to compare and contrast mutualisms vs. other types of species interactions. Consider mutualisms more broadly than plant-pollinator interactions. You should be able to readily discuss works from many different types of mutualisms (e.g., plant-pollinator, mycorrhizae, lichens, marine symbioses, etc). What, if any, are the useful theories that transcend interaction types? What are the most useful theories that are specific to one interaction type, and what limits their generality? (eventual question)
Disturbance (eventual question)
Evolutionary ecology as applied to phylogeography and landscape genetics. In particular how the ecological, demographic, and evolutionary processes of selection (both natural and anthropogenic), drift, dispersal, life history, and extinction/colonization dynamics interact to produce spatial genetic structure in populations. (eventual question)
Community structure and ecosystem function (eventual question)
Conditional interactions. There are exciting research programs in quite a few different disciplines that are showing how the nature of interspecies interactions change depending upon the context (e.g., 3 of our 6 ecology job candidates). Review this broad literature (including, for example, plant-pollinator, mycorrhizal relations, and invertebrate interactions, as well as vertebrates). Consider mechanisms, consequences, theory, and emerging questions. (eventual question)
Sexual selection, species recognition, and speciation (eventual question)
Dispersal: e.g., what is it; how dispersal influence behavior, population and community dynamics, and evolution, and how do these influence the costs and benefits of dispersal; what are the important theories, data, papers, and research trajectories? Among other things, you should be sure to read Turchin 1998 "Quantitative analysis of movement". (eventual question)
Plant population dynamics, especially dynamics of rainforest trees. (eventual question)
Coexistence and co-occurence of species and genotypes. (eventual question)
Competition theory and its applications to microbes. How does interspecific competition influence the structure and function of microbial communities? Do well known theories that have been developed for plants and animals (e.g., "r-K selection", Grime's model of "3 primary strategies", and Reynolds' modification of Grime's model for phytoplankton) also apply to microbes? What would it mean if microbial communities were - or were not - like plant and animal communities in the causes and consequences of interspecific competition? (eventual question)
1. Identify and master the most important theories of Behavioral Ecology (e.g., the theories that would organize how you would teach an upper level undergraduate course in Behavioral Ecology).
2. Be able to critique the theoretical structure of Behavioral Ecology. For example, be prepared to identify gaps in the theory, nascent promising theories, and time honoried theories that appear to be threatened by new data
3. Be prepared to outline and rationalize a research proposal that would make fundamental contributions to Behavioral Ecology (and which does not involve odonates or sexual selection). (eventual question)
POPULATION ECOLOGY. Why do some populations fluctuate in their abundance more than others? What are the general theoretical models? For each, be able to express the general form verbally, graphically, and mathematically. What are the similarities and differences among models? Be able to trace their historical development and evaluate their current status. What are the most prominent examples of specific systems for which each model has been (1) invoked and (2) tested. Be able to relate the biological details of your system and any other system to the general terms and properties of each model. (eventual question)
Behavioral ecology, including foraging behavior and habitat selection as it relates to population regulation and community interactions.
Speciation and phylogenies (Eventual question)
How are herbivore population dynamics influenced by plants? In addition to ungulates, pay particular attention to other groups (e.g., birds, insects, etc.) (Eventual question)
Life history theory and the population dynamic consequences of different life histories (eventual question).
Diversity, food webs, functional groups, and functional redundancy across different types of ecosystems. (eventual question)
Community ecology. Consider Hubbell's drift model. One prominent ecologist describes this as "the central controversy of our time in Community Ecology". Another snorts that "this is nothing but rewarmed ideas from the 1970s". Be able to speak to these and other possible viewpoints with historical context, knowledge of current relevant research, and, most importantly, specific suggestions for how to test Hubbell's model vs. the alternatives. As an entry into the literature, we recommend Hubbell's monograph and Tokeshi. 1999. Species Coexistence: Ecological and Evolutionary Perspectives. Blackwell. (eventual question)
Invasion biology (eventual question)
Reciprocal dynamics. Be able to discuss both classical and contemporary studies in reciprocal dynamics. Are there any generalities in terms of the types of costs and benefits of these reciprocal interactions? How might partner behavior be involved? Your reading on this topic should consider interactions more broadly than just plant-pollinator interactions. (eventual question)
Fisheries biology and management; stream hydrology and morphology; forest-stream-watershed interactions (physical and biological); knowledge of the Hubbard Brook research data base on streams, limnology, evolutionary ecology of salmonids. (eventual question)
Population and community ecology, in particular the integration of population studies for a community-level synthesis. (Not limited to plants-- be able to compare and contrast various communities and guilds). (eventual question)
Nitrogen in biological systems. What is the role of N in biological systems? Consider the scale from molecules to ecosystems. Be proficient with the important theories to explain (1) the functional importance of N in physiological systems, (2) pools and fluxes of nitrogen in individual organisms, (3) consequences of variable N supply rates for populations and communities, and (4) pools and fluxes of N in ecosystems of all sizes. At a more general level, be able to contrast the biogeochemistry of N, P, and C. (eventual question)
(A) Carbon cycling on local to global scales. what's the current state of the
field, what are the landmark papers
(B) Allochthonous subsidies from terrestrial to aquatic and vice-versa
(C) Putting topics a and b into an evolutionary context
(D) Issues of scale in ecological experiments
COMMUNITY ECOLOGY/EVOLUTION. What are the major features of the ecology and evolution of consumer-resource species interactions? Review the bodies of theory and data that address the nature of (1) ecological and (2) evolutionary interactions between species of consumers and producers (consider both macro- and micro-evolution, and evidence from both extant species and from fossils).
A. The consequences of body size for demographic patterns in extant animals and plants (in ecological time, ignoring evolutionary change). B. Factors influencing the evolution of body size in animals and plants. (Eventual question)
SPECIES' ROLES IN ECOSYSTEM PROCESSES
1. What is the effect of species composition on ecosystem processes? e.g., trophic dynamics, resource availability, productivity and decomposition, nutrient cycling, disturbance regimes, and even climate.
2. What is the effect of species richness (biodiversity) on ecosystem processes?
3. In what circumstances does a single species have a major impact on ecosystem processes?
4. How might temporal changes in the physical environment influence species' roles in ecosystem processes?
Be able to elucidate the reasons why ecosystem ecologists should care about the identity and the diversity of organisms present in a particular ecosystem, and symmetrically, why population and community ecologists should think about the ecosystem consequences of their focal critters. (eventual question)
Physiology of elemental flux through organisms, including stoichiometry and energetics (eventual question)
Models for disease dynamics, including cholera. What are the major types of models that have been developed by ecologists and/or epidemiologists to describe the spatial and/or temporal dynamics of disease? Be sure to consider models for animal and plant diseases, as well as those that affect humans; both theoretical and empirical models; and models developed for a generalized disease vs. a specific disease. What are the similarities and differences between these models? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Then consider the cholera situation specifically. To what extent are models developed for cholera similar to, or different from, models developed for other diseases? Who are the major movers and shakers in cholera modeling, and which team do you think is most likely to provide a useful predictive tool? Why? (eventual question)