Plant Population Biology

(Biology 762)

Plant Population Biology

Biology 762

Fall, 2011

            Welcome to Plant Population Biology!

            This course is aimed at graduate students interested in an in-depth introduction to this growing and exciting field. 

Format:  Lecture/Seminar.  For the most part, this will be a lecture course, but we may make occasional field trips to the computer lab (how exciting!), perhaps to the field (to the arboretum or elsewhere).

Content:  This semester, due to the diverse interests of students in the class, Plant Population Biology will focus on a relatively broad survey of the field of plant population biology.  We will not attempt an encyclopedic coverage of all areas of Plant Population Biology - The last attempt to do so in 1977, was Harper's 892 page tome - Population Biology of Plants.  No book has come close since, nor could it, given the burgeoning of this field over the past 25 years!  Rather, I hope to portray how Plant Population Biology, as a field, uses the scientific method to elucidate the ecology and evolution of the organisms it examines.


1.  Attendance.  As a graduate class, you should have no problem whatsoever finding motivation to come to class!  I know it’s early in the morning, but you are becoming a professional biologist and we are getting to the level that only ‘pros’ study.  Nevertheless, I have found it helpful to encourage perfect attendance by rewarding it in the grading of the class.  You get one ‘freebie’ no-questions-asked absence for the semester.  Beyond that, I only excuse medical/family emergencies or other unavoidable absences that you convince me supercede the importance of this class (!).  I will need a written excuse for those within one week of returning to class, and will accept them at my discretion.  On the excuse, please write the date of the class you missed, the reason, and provide any supporting documentation you believe would make a convincing case.  No written excuse: -10% on the attendance grade for every day missed.  By the way, I take attendance at the beginning of class.  Being an absentminded professor, you shouldn’t rely on me to count you as attending if you walk in late!

2.  Readings.  The text for this course is “Introduction to Plant Population Biology (4th Edition), by Jonathan Silvertown and Deborah Charlesworth.  We will be following the book fairly closely, covering about 1 chapter per week (one extra week thrown in for demography, my favorite topic!). 

3.  Discussions.  Each week, we will discuss papers from the original literature that we have all read (usually during part of lecture on Friday). 

4.  Bibliography.  Every Wednesday, for weeks 2 - 10, you will be required to bring in citations from the original literature on Plant Population Biology topics of interest to you.  In week 2, you will bring in 2 citations, in week 3, 3 citations, in week 4, 4 citations, etc (by the end you will have a Personal Bibliography of at least 51 citations).  You must use at least half of them in your Term Project (see 4).  The format of what you turn in to me should be brief, consisting of: (a) Citation (authors, date, title, journal, volume, pages), and (b) 2 – 4 bulleted sentences summarizing the main important points of the paper.

4.  Term project.  By the end of week 5, you will develop an idea for a (1) Grant Proposal, (2) Review Paper or, for students actively doing population biology research for their MS or PhD, (3) a paper for submission to a journal, based on the body of literature you have begun to review.  You and I will sit down and discuss your choice of (1), (2), or (3) individually, and I will provide guidance on the scope of the project, future directions for literature searching, etc.  In your Guest Lecture near the end of the semester, you will present your paper to the group in a 30-minute lecture/talk using Powerpoint.  In the process of this exercise, you will therefore delve deeply into an area of plant population biology which you find interesting, go through the process of summarizing what is known from the literature on this topic, define important questions whose answers are not yet known, and, (a) if writing a grant proposal, design a study or set of studies to address those questions, or (b) if writing a review, synthesize what is known about a field, attempting to find new patterns or understandings based on your synthesis, or (c) if writing a manuscript, produce a publishable unit.  During presentation weeks (the last 2 wk of classes), each day will be reserved for your presentation, followed by a discussion of one paper you have assigned the group to read (representing what you think is excellent contemporary work in that field). 

5.  There will be two take-home Essay-style exams on all the material in the course, to be given out in week 7 (due the following week) and in the last week of classes (due finals week).  Each exam will contain questions on half of the course material.

Grades:  My guide to assigning grades will be the descriptors of A, B, C, etc. in the catalog.  Being a graduate course, the grade scale on the course is high and will be as follows:  A (90 - 100%), B (80 - 89.9%), C (70 - 79.9%), D (60 - 69.9%), F (<60%).  The components of your grade are:






Showing up (on time!)



Quality and quantity of your participation in class discussions of assigned readings, as well as participation in lecture discussions.  Your participation in discussions will be used to assess whether you have done the assigned readings.



You will receive a check for every citation set turned in.  Minus 10% on this component for each set missed

Term Project


A=excellent=95%, B=good=85%, C=’average’=75%, D=fair=65% (see below). These can be adjusted up or down 3% with + or –

Two thirds of this grade will be based on the written portion of the project, one third based on our presentation of it to the class.

Essay ‘Midterm’ Exams


Each worth 20%. 

When there are qualitative judgments to be made about graded elements of the course, I use the criterion of: 'Excellent' = A, 'Good' = 'B', OK (not mathematically average) = C, 'Fair' = 'D' and 'Unsatisfactory' = 'F'.  For example, if you show up to class, do not ask any questions in lecture, and participate in discussions only when asked, I would consider that ‘OK’ (but certainly not ‘good’…), and you would receive a C for this component of your grade if that is how you participated all of the semester.  If you want to know how you are doing at any time during this course, please make time to come see me - I would like to see everyone at least once before mid-semester grades are due.

Norms of Class Behavior:  As a matter of courtesy to others, I would appreciate your being on time to class; it’s a distraction if you walk in late, particularly in 3131 as the door makes a very loud scrlunk sound when you enter!

Almost all professors plead with classes at every level to ask questions, to speak up when they don't understand, etc.  With graduate classes, any reluctance to do so should be behind you.  Stop me at any time during lecture.  Say anything and everything relevant and interesting in discussions.  No inhibitions please!  I don't want to have to bring in my Hog Wallow Hollow Ale or Makers Mark Mint Juleps to loosen things up!  Now there’s a threat!

Office Hours: Monday 1 – 2 PM, Tuesday 1 – 2 PM.  If you're in charge of leading the Discussion, please set up an appointment well before your time if you need some help.  If you want to discuss anything else, just drop in or if you want to be sure I'll be there and available, call ahead; 293-5201 ext. 31532.  You can also e-mail me - indeed it is the most reliable way to reach me -  Do not use my mix address – I don’t use it!


Course Outline


                                                                                                Schedule     Reading


1.  Introduction                                                                        Week 1            Chap. 1

            a.  What is a plant?

            b.  What is population biology?

            c.  Some population consequences of being a plant!

2.  Variation and its inheritance                                               Week 2/3         Chap. 2

a.  Traits

            b.  Genotype and phenotype

            c.  Quantitative traits

            d.  Discrete inheritance

            e.  Mutation

            f.  Breeding systems and variability

            g.  Consequences of non-random mating                   


3.  Evolutionary and ecological genetics                                  Week 4            Chap. 3

            a.  Null model

            b.  Gene flow

            c.  Patterns of diversity

            d.  Natural selection

4.  Intraspecific interactions                                                     Week 5            Chap. 4

            a.  Yield and density

            b.  –3/2 thinning rule

            c.  Size variation

            d.  Effects of neighbors

            e.  Size, density, fitness

            f.  Density-dependent population regulation

5.  Population dynamics                                                          Week 6            Chap. 5

            a.  Demographic parameters

            b.  Annuals with no seed bank

            c.  Density-dependent dynamics

            d.  Seed banks

6.  Dynamics of age-structured and stage structured pops      Week 7            Chap. 6

            a.  Stochasticity, disturbance, and recruitment

            b.  Population models with age and stage structure

            c.  Annuals with a seed bank

            d.  Perennials

            e.  Sensitivity and elasticity                                          Week 8       (assigned rdgs)   

            f.  Life table response experiments and sample influence function

            g.  Applications of demography in conservation biology

7.  Regional dynamics and metapopulations                            Week 9            Chap. 7

            a.  Classic metapopulation model

            b.  Regional dynamics of plants

            c.  Extinction

            d.  Genetic and evolutionary consequences of regional dynamics

            e.  Geographical range limits

            f.  Invasions

8.  Competition, coexistence, and cooperation?                        Week 10          Chap. 8

            a.  Interactions between plants

            b.  Competition

            c.  Coexistence

9.  Life history evolution:  breeding systems                           Week 11          Chap. 9

            a.  Evolution of sex

            b.  Selection on selfing

            c.  Self-incompatibility

            d.  Separate sexes

10.  Life history evolution: timing of developmental events     Week 12          Chap. 10

            a.  Reproductive maturity

            b.  Masting

            c.  Seeds

            d.  Clonal growth

            e.  Senescence and death

            f.  ‘Strategies’

11. Design and analysis of experiments in pop’n biology      Week 13          to be assigned

      (note: this topic will be covered if we have time)

12.  Student presentations                                                       Weeks 14-15


Social Justice Statement

West Virginia University is committed to social justice.  I concur with that commitment and expect to maintain a positive learning environment based upon open communication, mutual respect, and non-discrimination.  Our University does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, veteran status, religion, sexual orientation, color or national origin.  Any suggestions as to how to further such a positive and open environment in this class will be appreciated and given serious consideration.

If you are a person with a disability and anticipate needing any type of accommodation in order to participate in this class, please advise me and make appropriate arrangements with Disability Services (293-6700).