BIOL424-21S2 (C) Semester Two 2021

Community Ecology

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 19 July 2021
End Date: Sunday, 14 November 2021
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 1 August 2021
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Friday, 1 October 2021


To develop skills in the critique of literature and formulation and testing of hypotheses within the field of community ecology.

The aim of this course is to investigate fundamental aspects of community ecology—the study of interactions between two or more species and their environment.  The course will be of value to anyone interested in biodiversity, global environmental change, and ecological theory.  Major themes include food web ecology, metacommunities, determinants of community structure, community assembly, species interactions in diverse assemblages, and threats to biodiversity.  Given the strong conceptual basis of the course material, we will often present topics via a mix of both theoretical (modelling) and empirical research when possible. Although a strong background in mathematics isn’t required, we do expect that you will make an earnest effort to dissect equations and models and be able to explain what they show in plain English.  During the course, each student will do an independent research project that require basic skills in management, organization, and exploration of data, as well as graphical and statistical analyses (i.e., matching skills taught in Biol209 and Biol309).

Recommended preparatory course(s): BIOL377, BIOL378 or BIOL375

Learning Outcomes

  • As a student in this course, I will develop the ability to:
  • Understand the interplay between theoretical and empirical approaches to community ecology (GP1, GP2).
  • Link an understanding of the structure and function of diverse assemblages with the fundamental ecological theories that underpin this structure (GP1, GP2).  
  • Be able to critically review scientific literature, including theoretical studies (GP1, GP2).
  • Develop the intellectual freedom to think critically about scientific issues (GP1, GP2).  
  • Understand the keys to formulating research questions (GP1, GP2).  
  • Be able to synthesise, using evidence and reasoning, ecological concepts from basic principles (GP1, GP2).  

    Transferable Skills Register / Pūkenga Ngaio
    As a student in this course, I will develop the following skills:
  • Performing original research. From the outside, undertaking original research can appear straightforward but the reality is anything but. By conducting a research project, the student will understand the ins and outs of research - including its pitfalls - in a direct fashion, better preparing them for the challenges ahead in a work environment (GP1, GP2).  
  • Critically reviewing and synthesising information. In everyday life and in many job situations you will be required to read information from different sources, construct your own understanding and shape your own viewpoint. In tutorials, we will discuss recent and/or classic research papers in a group environment and this will develop your abilities to identify the essential elements of research outputs and to build upon them in your own project (GP1, GP2).  
  • Written and verbal communication. Clear written communication is essential for most professional careers and communicating verbally to a range of audiences is also critical in any area of endeavour (GP1, GP2).


Subject to approval of the Head of School.



Timetable 2021

Students must attend one activity from each section.

Lecture A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Tuesday 12:00 - 13:00 Ernest Rutherford 225
19 Jul - 25 Jul
Tutorial A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Tuesday 12:00 - 14:00 Ernest Rutherford 225
26 Jul - 29 Aug
13 Sep - 19 Sep

Course Coordinator / Lecturer

Mads Thomsen


Jonathan Tonkin and Daniel Stouffer


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Talking points 10%
Final take home exam 35% 24 hour take home exam
Project Outline 5%
Research Project 50%


Feedback from 2019 course survey (62% response; 5 out of 8)
1. Materials provided helped me understand what was required to succeed in this course 3.4
2. The organisation of this course helped me learn 3.6
3. Workload was appropriate to the level of the course   3.8                                                
4. Assessments were appropriate for the course   3.2                                                          
5. Where I sought feedback on my assessments, I found it helpful  3.2                                  

The following issues were raised in written feedback by students as part of the course survey.

Positive features
- The two paper seminar format was good for critically analyzing and pulling apart papers.
- For the seminars I believe the workload was appropriate.
Negative features (Action/response indicated in bold)
- I would have appreciated a more detailed handout for the assignment.
o We have added information about the Research Project to the course handouts. We have also added information about the Research Project to both the Course orienteering meeting and the first seminar. Finally, we encourage students to setup meetings with the teachers to discuss specific issues related to their completion of the Research Project.
- Weekly having different tutors might be useful in undergraduate courses, however it felt disjointed for a post grad class, and I didn't feel a strong undercurrent/theme from the course due to this.
o Community ecology is a complex research field with a bewildering number of theories and frameworks and this level of complexity can be confusing and intimidating for new graduate students. We have changed the first class to focus on this topic to better prepare the student for what he/she will encounter in the course and future graduate studies.  We have also reduced the number of teachers from 4 to 3 to facilitate better student-teacher interactions. Finally, we now include discussions in the seminars about how the different topics link to each other.
- Would have appreciated just a sentence on each of the strengths and weakness weekly assignment, to inform on how my interpretation was going, doesn't have to be marked, but a tiny bit of feedback would have been appreciated.
o We discuss, in detail, strengths and weakness of research papers in the seminars and expect students to actively participate in the seminar. We therefore expect each student to cross-check her/his own comment with comments raised in the class discussion (i.e., we expect students to self-evaluate his/hers own comments and bring up, in class, issues related to lack of understanding). We also encourage students to take initiative and setup meetings with teachers for more specific evaluations of his/hers understanding of the seminar discussions.

The course is constantly being refined and updated, and students should see the benefits of this.  Note that basic skills in data analysis, data management, graphical data analysis, statistical tests, and usage of Excel and statistical software (like r) is expected. These skills are essential to complete the Research Project.

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $1,066.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see School of Biological Sciences .

All BIOL424 Occurrences

  • BIOL424-21S2 (C) Semester Two 2021