Biogeographic concepts in understanding responses in ecosystems to change.

Faculty: Arts
Subject: Geographical Sciences
Year / Level: 3
Theme(s): Climate Science 



Biogeography is the study of the distribution of plants and animals on the earth's surface, and the historical, ecological, and human factors responsible. Generally, it is concerned with fundamental processes of evolution, extinction, and dispersal. It asks such questions as: Why are placental mammals dominant in Eurasia and North America while marsupials dominate Australia? Why do Australia and Africa share the same plant families? Why are there so many insect, microbe, and plant species in the tropics and why do their numbers decrease towards the poles? What allows a plant species to live where it does, and what prevents its colonization elsewhere? How are plant and animal distributions today different from in the past, and what implications does this have for their abilities to respond to global changes? Why have islands sustained so many extinctions relative to mainlands and what are the implications for mainland species conservation? This course explores these and similar questions. The goal is to introduce the field of biogeography, understand biodiversity patterns and processes across earth, and how this knowledge can help maintain biological systems in human dominated, 21st century landscapes. We will explore biogeographic themes through lecture, readings from texts and pivotal scholarly articles, classroom discussion and lab/research assignments.

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain patterns of species distributions in terms of physical, ecological and historical controls
  2. Understand the role of processes that operate at geological and evolutionary time scales (e.g., plate tectonic effects, speciation, extinction) in shaping biogeographic distributions
  3. Analyze regional human impacts on species and landscapes from the Pleistocene to present. In particular:
    1. Understand responses of ecosystems to environmental change at global to local scales
    2. Understand conservation issues such as endangered species, habitats and biodiversity loss
  4. Test Hypotheses about biogeographical question (e.g., testing predictions of effects of ecosystem fragmentation on species populations; testing effects of reserve size on species richness)
  5. Work with biogeographic data, its graphical representation, interpretation and analysis
  6. Improve skills for effective scientific report writing and critical analysis of scholarly literature


Check SSC to see if the course is currently offered and if you meet pre-requisites etc.



Read a copy of the course syllabus to see reading lists, assignments, grading, and more.



Nina Hewitt

"My research explores vegetation dynamics with a focus on the impacts of human activities, including climate change."