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Needs to be not only a research paper but also a proposal for a future experiment
Research Paper & Proposal
Final paper due Tuesday, May 26th

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Your paper for ecology this quarter is going to have two components. You will need to review a conceptual topic in ecology and propose a feasible study related to this topic. For the review portion you should explain a specific topic and some of the most important and/or most recent studies related to that topic. Your proposal should ask a related question about a particular study organism or study system and present a feasible means of answering that question with either a manipulative experiment or a correlative study (i.e. natural experiment). Your proposal does not have to be groundbreaking, but it should also not have already been done.

Your paper should be between 7 – 8 pages, double spaced, not including your literature cited section. You should use (and cite) at least 10 peer reviewed journal articles in your review, of which at least 8 must be primary (the other 2 may be review articles, which are a good way to get started on a topic).

Your topic may be any topic in ecology for which there is sufficient literature and which lends itself to a feasible study. It does not have to be a topic we have covered or are going to cover in this class. I would encourage you to poke around in your book and see if there are topics coming up that you find interesting.

You must turn in a rough topic idea on Friday, April 24th. It does not need to include references. This will be a chance for me to make suggestions and make sure you are on the right track. It should be half a page or less, and should include both the topic and a few sentences about the proposal.

Experimental design tips:

Have a question that you are trying to answer, and a hypothesis (speculative answer) to test.

At the heart of every study is a comparison, so make sure you know what that comparison is and how it relates to your question.

Do your experiments in the field whenever possible.

Assume that you are conducting your experiment after our current pandemic has passed and you are free to travel freely and visit appropriate field sites. You can also imagine that you have a generous, but possible, budget. NSF and NIH do give out million dollar grants, but not billion dollar grants.

Pick an appropriate study organism. Think about what sort of response you are looking for and how long you would have to wait in order to see it (e.g. do not do experiments with elephants that require numerous generations before you can collect your data). Do not propose experiments that would be unethical, either because of their impacts on natural communities (such as introducing potentially invasive species to new habitats), their impacts on endangered species, or their impacts on humans.

Remember that this is a research proposal, meaning that it is focused on answering a scientific question. It should not be policy or engineering proposal (i.e. something that you are suggesting doing because you think it is a good idea).

The basics of an experiment are:
1) an independent variable (which may be your treatments and controls in a manipulative experiment or it may be existing variation that you are using for a natural experiment).

2) a dependent variable (what you collect data on)

3) replication (true replication requires interspersion)

Your proposal should explicitly and very clearly include these three elements.

Some common types of experiments in ecology are:
1) species removal experiments ~ remove a species from small plots in the field in order to measure how other species and the community respond (relative to control plots in which the species is not removed)

2) resource addition experiments ~ to see if a particular resource is limiting, one usually adds more of that resource in order to see if the consumer population responds (gets larger, for example)

3) modify conditions ~ conditions like temperature, light, salinity can be manipulated in much the same way that resources can be, to see how species or the community are affected

4) some combination of these

5) natural experiments (also called correlative studies) ~ habitats that already differ with regard to the independent variable may be compared in order to try to answer questions that would be too time consuming to address with a manipulative experiment, or questions which operate on spatial scales too large to be addressed with manipulative experiments

(These are certainly not the only acceptable types of experiments)

Suggestions if you have no idea where to start:

One of the most basic questions in ecology is, “What determines the distribution and abundance of species X?” You can ask this about any species, you will probably not come up with a definitive answer, but you will probably come up with a lot of interesting ideas. Your paper should ultimately focus on a conceptual topic, but if you have a hard time coming up with one, you can start with a species you are excited about and try to think of an ecological topic that is important in understanding that species.

Another good starting point would be to think about how climate change is likely to affect some species that you are interested in, or some local habitat. Think of a way to experimentally address some aspect of the changes that you are predicting.

Turn in your paper through Canvas.

Late policy

Your papers are due on Tuesday, May 26th by 11:59pm. If your paper is turned in after May 26th it is late and will be docked 10% of its grade. I will not accept papers for any credit after the last day of classes, June 5th.

Use of references

When you are using information or ideas from articles you have read, you should always restate these in your own words. Do not use direct quotes from the articles you have read. Although the use of direct quotes is common in the humanities, you will notice that it is not done in the articles you are reading, and it should not be done in your paper either.

Cite references in your paper by the last name of the author (or authors) and the year published. For example:

Medium sized boulders were found to have the highest diversity of algae (Sousa 1979), in general agreement with the Intermediate Disturbance Hypotheses (Connell 1968).

Include the names of up to two authors (e.g. Smith & Smith 2011), but if there are more than two just list the first author followed by “et al.”, which stands for “and others” (e.g. Smith et al. 2011). The full citations then appear in a list at the end of your paper (References or Literature Cited) in a consistent format, such as:

Boulton, A. M., Amberman, K. D. 2006. How ant nests increase soil biota richness and abundance: a field experiment. Biodiversity and Conservation 15:69-82

Lovejoy, N. R., Mullen, S. P., Sword, G. A., Chapman, R. F., Harrison R. G. 2006. Ancient trans-Atlantic flight explains locust biogeography. Proceedings of the Royal Society 273: 767-774

Grading of the Paper
The paper will be graded out of 150 points. These will be for:

Rough topic idea (due April 24th) ~ 10 points
You turned in a rough idea by the due date, written clearly and demonstrating that you had spent some time thinking about it.

Background review, coverage and depth ~ 40 points
The first portion of your paper will review a topic (you can think of this portion as the Introduction to your proposal), and these points will be based on the depth of coverage you are able to provide of that topic. It requires adequate references, but is also based on the quality of those references.

Background review, organization and clarity ~ 20 points
These points are for having organized your background review in a logical manner that is easy to follow and to understand.

Question & hypothesis ~ 10 points
Either at the end of the Background review or the beginning of the proposal methods you should very clearly state the question that you are trying to answer and the hypothesis that you are testing (i.e. your tentative answer to that question). Make these very easy to find.

Experimental design ~ 35 points
Your proposal should have very clear independent and dependent variables that are clearly related to your question. I’m not too worried about details of lab or field procedures, but you should provide an explanation for the general design of the study (be it a manipulative experiment or comparative / correlative study).

References ~ 10 points
You should have at least 10 peer reviewed journal articles that you cite in your text and are listed in your References or Literature Cited section at the end of your paper. Of these, at least 8 should be primary. You are welcome to have more articles in your References, and you are welcome to include additional references that are not journal articles, but they do not count towards your 10 articles. Please only cite sources that you think are reliable, and only include sources in your References that you actually cite in your paper.

Overall writing ~ 25 points
Write in clear, well organized paragraphs, with straightforward, easy to understand sentences. Follow the rules of grammar and proofread your paper before turning it in.


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