Ecological interactions are competitive interactions for food sources, territorial domains, and attractive mates. The behavior of an organism to secure these resources is often stimulated by physical signs—the color of male birds, the stomping of hooves, the physical features of the barista at the local coffee shop. As it turns out, however, there are many ecological interactions that are stimulated by chemical signals, and they make for fascinating stories in natural history. The basic question for this course is, “How do chemicals control the behavior of an organism?”
The chemical concepts addressed in this course are fairly simple and do not require an extensive background in chemistry. You will need to be comfortable with recognizing the functional groups and structures of organic molecules. At a very introductory level, we will also introduce the biochemical origins for some of these molecules, so you will need to be generally familiar with metabolic pathways from introductory biology.
At the end of this course, you should be able to
- Interpret the ecological importance of chemical interactions in controlling behavioral responses in an organism by writing a short paper for a general audience.
- Identify the chemical basis for observed ecological behaviors and explain how the chemical-behavioral relationships were discovered.
- Analyze the biochemical origins of secondary metabolites involved in ecological interactions and prepare a biosynthetic abstract describing (or proposing) the biological synthesis of a compound.
The tasks you must complete in this course are intended to focus on the development of your understandings in chemical ecology. As a result, we will need to step away from the traditional lecture/laboratory style of learning that is the mainstay of the college experience. Instead, you will be assembling a learning portfolio that demonstrates evidence of learning. Showing evidence of learning requires you to process information, organize it, and then communicate your interpretation of it, and I will be providing you with specific details about the contents of your portfolio. In brief, your portfolio will contain a collection of 10 items developed during this class, including these 6 required items ,
- A written introduction to chemical ecology.
- An annotated bibliography.
- A biosynthetic abstract.
- A contribution to a book chapter about chemical ecology for general readers.
- A lab report.
- A reflective learning journal.
The learning portfolio is a serious and organized collection of materials that show you have developed a focused understanding about a specific topic; it is not simply a collection of photocopied articles or websites.