Instructor info:

Dr. Jim Baxter
Office: Sequoia Hall 306
Tel. 916.278.4047

Office hours
T: 9 - 10:30 am
W: 1 - 2:30 pm
Or by appointment

Course info:

Lecture HMB 202
T/Th 12:00 - 12:50 pm

Lab SQU 328
T 1:30 - 4:20 pm
Th 9:00 - 11:50 pm


Lecture Schedule

Lab Schedule

Course description
General Ecology is an upper division core course that provides students with an understanding of the fundamental processes that influence the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the role of organisms in the flux of energy and cycling of matter.  Because virtually all ecological systems are affected by humans, this course highlights human interactions with the environment as a context for understanding larger ecological principles.  In addition to focusing on the subject of ecology, this course will emphasize scientific thinking and problem solving.  An understanding of ecology will make you better biologists (no matter what area you study) and informed citizens.

Both BIO 1 and 2 plus STAT 001 (Introduction to Statistics) are required prerequisites for this course.  If you enrolled but do not have one or more of these prerequisites, you will be dropped from the course.  Why the prerequisites?  General Ecology builds on content contained in introductory biology and statistics; therefore, I assume that you know and have an understanding of the fundamental concepts from these courses

Course materials


Smith, T. M. and Smith, R. L. 2012.  Elements of Ecology. 8th edition. Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco, CA.  (Also available as an eTextbook (to order, click on the CourseSmart link below)

Course manual

Baxter, J. W. 2014 (Spring).  General Ecology (Bio 160) Course Manual. Dept. of Biological Sciences, CSU Sacramento, Sacramento, CA. (Available here on course website - requires password)


McMillan, V E. 2011.  Writing papers in the biological sciences. 5th Ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston, MA. (4th edition also ok)

Other items

a calculator, USB key (thumb drive)

Smith and Smith, Elements of Ecology, 8th Edition through CafeScribe.


My approach and expectations
I use an active and inquiry-based approach to learning that will require you to: 1) understand the material, not just memorize it; 2) solve problems you may not have studied before; and 3) synthesize information from a larger body of knowledge.  By “active” and “inquiry-based”, I mean that we will spend much of our time working together to ask questions, solve problems, apply our understanding to new situations, and engage in scientific research.  In other words, we will engage our minds and immerse ourselves in ecology.  Moreover, we will cover a lot of material in this course and integrate across a wide range of scales and levels of organization.  As such, you should expect to spend substantial time preparing and studying outside of class.  For some students, this course will be difficult because they have never been expected to work and learn in this way before.  Therefore, you should prepare to learn new ways of studying that will help you achieve the learning that is expected from you in this course.  To help you learn the science of ecology and to develop the necessary cognitive skills, I provide a variety of in- and out-of-class learning experiences.

I also expect students to arrive at all lectures and labs on time.  Assigned readings and worksheets are meant to be completed prior to class.  You are also expected to come prepared to ask questions and discuss topics when called upon.

Learning goals
When you have successfully completed this course, you will: 1) know and understand important facts, concepts and principles concerning the major ecological patterns and processes found in nature; 2) be able to apply these facts, concepts and principles to new situations; 3) be able to analyze ecological literature, phenomena or problems, synthesize new hypotheses to explain observations and experimental data, and critically evaluate the relative merits of competing hypotheses or explanations for these phenomena; 4) develop skill and self-confidence designing and conducting appropriate ecological experiments and presenting the results to others through written and oral means; 5) have considered personal points of view and attitudes regarding the role of ecological science in evaluating environmental concerns; and 6) be able to work effectively and cooperatively with others to achieve common goals.

Assessment and grading
A single letter grade will be given at the end of the semester based on your overall point total for the assessments listed below.  All assessments must be completed.

Lecture (500 pts)
Exams (3 @ 100 pts each) 300 30
Quizzes (3 @ 20 pts each) 60 6
Worksheets 60 6
Group Exercises 30 3
Participation 50 5
Lab (500 pts)
Assignments 160 16
Quizzes (2 @ 30 pts each) 60 6
Field Trips 80 8
Project report 100 10
Project presentation 50 5
Participation 50 5
Total 1000 100

I do not grade on a curve.  Final grades will be assigned based on the cumulative point totals as follows:

Percentage (%)


Percentage (%)


≥ 93


73 – 76.9


90 – 92.9


70 – 72.9


87 – 89.9


67 – 69.9


83 – 86.9


63 – 66.9


80 – 82.9


60 – 62.9


77 – 79.9


≤ 59.9


Learning teams
Some of our learning in lecture and lab will occur in teams.  Working collaboratively promotes learning and cooperation among group members to achieve common goals.  You will form groups during the first couple weeks of the course and work with your team members to take quizzes, complete lecture and lab assignments, and conduct a semester-long field research project.

To help you prepare for the lecture and exams, I have created a set of worksheets that contain questions and problems that pertain to each lecture. The worksheets are intended to be a learning tool to prepare you in advance for the material to be presented in lecture.  Worksheets are also intended to reinforce your understanding of key concepts from the readings and lecture, as well as help you prepare for the exams. Each worksheet is worth 3 points, for a maximum of 60 points.  You are expected to complete all worksheets prior to the corresponding lecture.  Worksheets for each lecture may be turned in on the day of that lecture only; NO LATE WORKSHEETS WILL BE ACCEPTED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. I have this strict policy because I use the worksheets as a measure of participation and to keep attendance.  Furthermore, I draw at least one exam question directly from the worksheets; therefore, completing all of the worksheets will help you prepare for the lecture exams.  Answers to worksheet questions will be posted on the course website after they are due.

Three multiple choice exams will be given.  Each is worth 100 points, for a total of 300 points.  Exams are cumulative and will cover material presented in both the lecture and the lab.  Although the exams will draw primarily from material presented in the lecture, I also draw material from the textbook, worksheets, and lab.  Although exams are multiple choice, I have crafted them not only assess your command of the facts but also to test your ability to problem-solve, analyze and interpret data, synthesize information, and evaluate ecological phenomena – skills you will practice and reinforce in lecture and lab.  To help you prepare for the exams, I recommend that you use a combination of your written lecture notes, the lecture slides, keys to the worksheets, and course manual as additional study resources.

Three lecture and two lab quizzes will be given.  Lecture quizzes will consist of ten multiple-choice questions and be worth 20 points each, for a total of 60 points.  They will first be taken individually and then the same quiz will be taken as a group.  Your point total will be the sum of your individual score and group score.  Individual scores may differ, but all group members receive the same group score.  Lecture quizzes will be given at the beginning of the period.  Because there is a group component to the lecture quizzes, they CANNOT BE MADE UP. Lab quizzes will cover material presented and learned in the lab and be worth 30 points each, for a total of 60 points.  The format will be short answer essay and problem solving.  Each student will take the lab quiz individually. 

The lab
Because the lab is where you will actually do ecology, I consider lab to be a key element of this course.  Hence, the lab comprises 50% of the course grade.  This is appropriate both in terms of the time and effort you will devote to the lab and the value of the lab experience in meeting the course learning objectives.  Successful completion of the lab is essential to doing well in the course.  The lab is your chance to learn the “tools of the trade” and get hands-on field experience.  Indeed, I have structured the lab to incorporate research as a way of learning about the science of ecology rather than it being a cook-book type of experience.  The lab has three main purposes: 1) To reinforce and complement what you are learning in the lecture; 2) To develop an understanding of the methods of ecology (and science in general) and how ecologists do ecology; and 3) To improve your scientific thinking, analytical, and scientific communication skills.

As part of the lab experience, you will conduct a semester-long field research project.  The research project will culminate in a written report on your study and an oral presentation of the results.  The project will be conducted in groups of 3 students.  Although you will conduct and present the research as a group, each student will turn in their own original written report.  All group members are responsible for contributing equally to the success of the projects and grading will take into consideration individual contributions.  The nature, point value, and timeline of the research project will be presented in more detail in the lab.

Computers and software
Computers with Microsoft Office, statistical software and Internet access are available in the lab and will be used for some lab exercises and the lab research projects.  If you own a laptop with wireless and you have the supporting software, you may bring your laptop and use it for the lab exercises.  In order to conduct various data manipulations and analyses in the lab, we will use Microsoft Excel.  If you do not have Microsoft Excel, you may acquire a free compatible spreadsheet program online through OpenOffice (  Depending on the experimental design of your research project, you may also need to use SPSS (a statistical software package, available to students on university computers).

A key portion of your grade in this course (100 pts, or 10%, divided equally between lecture and lab) will depend on your participation.  Allocation of these points is at my discretion and based on attendance, punctuality, regular submission of lecture worksheets, pre-labs and assignments, as well as your positive contribution to learning in the course.  These points are intended to encourage punctuality, respect and participation in both the lecture and the lab.  Many of you do this in your sleep, so keep up the good work!  However, I’ve noticed over the years that a small number of students chronically arrive to class late, miss class altogether, leave lab early (without notification to the instructor), do not participate in class discussions, and do not come to class prepared.  Unfortunately, this is disruptive and disrespectful to the class; consequently, I will take note of these events and consider them in my determination of your participation score.  This is especially important in the lab, where many of the exercises depend on the presence of all members of the learning team. Two (2) percentage points will be taken off for each late arrival (>5 minutes) after the first one; additional percentage points – at my discretion – will be taken off for lack of preparation and participation.

Make-ups and late assignments
If you must miss an exam or a lab due to an unavoidable conflict that you know about beforehand, you must notify me in advance.  Otherwise you will not be able to make up the work.  If you do not notify me beforehand, you must provide me with documentation of a bona fide emergency or illness (e.g., a physician’s  or supervisor's note, death certificate, or similar).  In such cases, the missed exam or lab may be made up at a later time in consultation with the instructor.  As stated above, worksheets and lecture quizzes cannot be made up under any circumstances.  Unless you notify me in advance, late assignments and reports will be accepted but graded down 10% of the full point value per school day late.  Missed labs must be made up during another lab period in the same week and cannot be made up with a different instructor.

Class behavior and academic honesty
I expect that all students in my class will exhibit appropriate and respectful behavior and adhere to the university’s policy on academic honesty.  Cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated and will be severely punished.  University policy on academic honesty clearly defines what constitutes cheating and plagiarism.  Because many students are not familiar with what exactly constitutes plagiarism, the university defines plagiarism as: “the use of distinctive ideas or works belonging to another person without providing adequate acknowledgement of that person's contribution.”  The university further states that “Regardless of the means of appropriation, incorporating another's work into one's own requires adequate identification and acknowledgement.”  I strongly encourage you to read the university’s complete policy on academic honesty, which is provided on the web at:

As an example of plagiarism, if you cut and paste material from someone else’s work and do not acknowledge the source of that material, that’s considered plagiarism.  If, after reviewing the university’s policy, you are still unsure about what is and what is not plagiarism, please ask!

Please note that although plagiarizing from the internet is both common and easy to do, it is also easy to catch.  Often a simple Google search or use of one of the many software programs created to identify plagiarism will identify material copied off of sources gathered from the internet.  So, don’t risk it; write your papers in YOUR OWN WORDS.

Anyone caught cheating or plagiarizing will receive an F in the course.  In addition, I will forward their name to the Dean of Student Affairs.

Persons with disabilities
I am sensitive to students with disabilities.  Any student having a visible or invisible disability that adversely affects their ability to learn and succeed in my class should speak with me prior to the second week of class.  This will allow me enough time to make reasonable accommodations in advance of exams and quizzes.

A note on cell phones, texting, etc.
Please turn your cell phone off before coming to class.  A cell phone that rings during class is disruptive to me and to other students.  If, however, for personal reasons you must leave your cell phone on and take a call during class, please set the ringer to vibrate and take the call outside of class.  No cell phones will be allowed during quizzes and exams.  Texting will not be tolerated during class.  Any student observed texting during class will be asked to leave.  Computers will be allowed during class for related class work only.  E-mailing, chatting, or playing games on a computer, phone or other handheld device will not be tolerated during class.  If you wish to use a voice recording device to capture my lectures, you are welcome to do so.