SUS 8200B Biogeography

Fall 2017. Subject to refinement/updating.


Instructor: Robert Anderson
Schedule: TBD
Location: TBD
3 credits 3 hours/week


Dr. Robert P. Anderson, Professor

Office hours: By appointment in MR-817 (office) or MR-810 (lab)


An introduction to biogeography, the study of spatial patterns of biological diversity. The course includes the study of geographic variation in nature at all levels from genes to communities to ecosystems, with both ecological and evolutionary perspectives.  Biogeographic patterns vary predictably across gradients such as area, isolation, latitude, depth, and elevation. In addition, however, they depend on contingent factors, such as unique events long ago in Earth’s history as well as more- recent human-induced changes. Many biogeographic topics are inextricably linked to current environmental issues important to society (e.g., survival of endangered species, effects of global climate change), which will receive emphasis in the course. This course will include both lectures and computer projects. In addition, it will emphasize critical thinking skills, data analysis, and hypothesis testing. Students will be required to propose experiments and interpret scientific data. Undergraduate students will work in small groups on the projects. Graduate students will take a stronger leadership role in the projects and will write a research paper based on a subset of them. Student interests and curiosity will drive the specific topics covered (including the projects).


1. Understand climatic patterns in the past, present, and projected future, and their effects on species distributions and patterns of genetic diversity.

2. Understand factors leading to gradients of species richness at local to global scales.

3. Understand the geographic processes that influence the diversification of clades.

4. Describe the principal causes that put species at risk of extinction.

5. Perform basic computer analyses with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

6. Understand the research process from hypothesis generation to final presentation of results.

Course Requirements

Class periods will be interactive. Students will be exposed to the field of biogeography through readings, lectures/discussions, writing clinics, and computer projects. The course textbook will be supplemented with primary literature and review articles. To learn to propose hypotheses and experiments and to analyze scientific data, material from the lecture will be supplemented with real data in the projects.

Approximately half of the class will be lecture/discussion, and the other half will involve computer projects, using freely available software for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Lectures will include group discussions, and students will assist with lecture by presenting short presentations (“mini- lectures”) assigned ahead of time. Researchers from CCNY and other area institutions will likely give presentations on their current biogeographic investigations. Projects will consist of analyses of real data regarding a biogeographic problem relevant to society, along with presentations of the results.

Grammar, spelling, and composition: Because scientists must be able to express themselves in written prose, students must use proper spelling, grammar (including punctuation), and composition. Paragraphs must be composed of organized, coherent thoughts and include a lead sentence (proper composition).  Longer writing assignments require higher-level structure that is both clear and logical.  I will be available during office hours to answer questions regarding grammar and composition.

Attendance Policy: Class will begin promptly, and you are required to be on time. Attendance is required; absence from more than 2 class periods can result in your being dropped from the course for excessive absences (WU).

Academic Integrity: Plagiarism will be dealt with subject to CCNY/CUNY policies regarding academic integrity. The full CUNY policy can be found in the CCNY Undergraduate Bulletin 2009– 2011 (Appendix B.3) and on the CCNY website. Cases where academic integrity is compromised will be prosecuted according to these rules. Disciplinary sanctions range from failing the class to expulsion from the College.

Accessibility/Academic accommodations: Students should know that appropriate academic accommodations (e.g., for various physical or learning conditions) are offered and facilitated by the CCNY AccessAbility Center (NAC 1/218) and must be arranged in advance.

Support Facilities: The Departmental Resource Center is in Room MR-502.

Plan for student-driven learning: As mentioned above, student interests and curiosity will drive the specific topics covered (including the projects). Over the course of the semester, we will learn about several research areas, with each “unit” driven by the goal of understanding the biogeographic aspects of a current environmental issue important to society (e.g., survival of endangered species, effects of global climate change, effects of invasive species, geography of zoonotic diseases). At the beginning of each unit, we will read and discuss papers that provide an overview of one such environmental issue. Based on that, students will decide which subject areas need to be covered to understand the application at hand. This will include selection of relevant sections of the textbook and finding associated primary literature, both of which will lead to lectures and discussions. Additionally, students will work in small groups, following their curiosity to propose relevant scientific questions that can be addressed with real data and GIS software. Guided by the professor and group discussions, students will propose experiments, gather data, conduct analyses, test hypotheses, and present the results to the class. The projects will not necessarily follow strictly in concert with the topics covered in lecture, but rather will probably derive from them and continue for longer periods of time.

Required Reading

Textbook, required: Lomolino, M.V., Riddle, B.R., Whittaker, R.J., and Brown, J.H. 2010. Biogeography, fourth edition. Sinauer, Sunderland, MA. ISBN 978-0-87893-494-2.

Topics to be covered (topics covered will include many and perhaps all of the following):

Readings (Lomolino et al.)

Ch. 16 (extinction and range collapse, invasive species, global climate change)

Ch. 3 (climate, soils, GIS, remote sensing)

Ch. 4 (niche theory and species ranges)

Ch. 5 (biomes)

Ch. 6 (dispersal, barriers, and immigration)

Ch. 7 (species concepts, speciation)

Ch. 8 (geological time scale, continental drift)

Ch. 9 (glaciation, Pleistocene extinctions)

Ch. 10 (biogeographic regions)

Ch. 11 (phylogeography: genetic sequences and molecular clocks)

Ch. 12 (phylogenies and geography)

Ch. 13 (species–area relationship, equilibrium island biogeography)


Exams (3); class participation; projects (including portfolio of figures and tables); for graduate students, also research paper. To assess the students’ understanding of the material, there will be two exams during the semester and a final examination. If you know that you will miss an exam, contact me as soon as possible so that you can take the exam in advance. Make-up exams will be allowed only for documented excused absences (e.g., death in the family, extreme sickness). In addition, students’ comprehension of material from the lecture and projects will be assessed via class participation, presentations, and (for graduate students) a research paper.

The final grade will be calculated as follows:Graduate Students
Exam 110%
Exam 210%
Final exam (comprehensive)15%
Class participation (including mini-lectures)15%
Final project portfolio (due last day of class)10%
Research paper (due last day of class)20%

Course Outline





What is biogeography? Chapter 1 (pp. 1–5); key vocabulary; readings and discussion of current environmental issues with biogeographic aspects

Introduction to GIS (project)


Unit 1

Brainstorm ideas for team projects; DIVA-GIS tutorial


Unit 1

Team projects/tutorials


Unit 1

Team projects/tutorials



Team projects/tutorials


Unit 2

Team projects/tutorials


Unit 2

Team projects/tutorials


Unit 2; other key fundamentals of biogeography

Team projects/tutorials



Team projects


Spring recess; no class



Unit 3

Team projects


Unit 3

Team projects


Unit 3; other key fundamentals of biogeography

Team projects




Synthesis and FINAL EXAM

Project portfolio due (research paper due also for graduate students)