FISH 511: Historical Ecology


Next offering: TBD

Long-term data are vital for developing realistic management baselines; unfortunately, these data are exceedingly rare. Scientists and managers who are interested in understanding an ecosystem within its historical context have had to get creative in order to derive reliable data on past ecosystems states. In this course, we will survey the variety of creative approaches that historical ecologists take to obtain data about the past. We will discuss the use of ship’s logs, fisheries landings records, naturalist’s accounts, living persons’ memories, family photographs, museum specimens, maps, seafood menus, and more. Our approach will be to read and discuss the fundamental papers for each method, with the goal of equipping students to use established historical ecology methods and derive new methods for their ecosystem of interest.

By the end of the quarter, I expect students to be able to:

  1. Identify the primary approaches used by historical ecologists to obtain data about ecosystems of the past.
  2. Explain the caveats, biases, and constraints of data obtained through each historical ecology approach.
  3. Generate ideas for how to validate, ground-truth, or improve the accuracy of data obtained through each historical ecology approach.
  4. Analyze and critically evaluate published journal articles, including argumentation, logic, presentation of context, and graphical presentation of data.
  5. Interpret and synthesize primary literature (i.e., draw connections among disparate ideas).
  6. Exchange ideas comfortably and collegially with colleagues.
  7. Critique your colleagues’ ideas respectfully but substantively.
  8. Communicate your ideas effectively.

Student feedback from official evaluations:

“It got me thinking about all the other different disciplines and their methodology that could be employed to advance the understanding of the historical state of ecosystems.”

morgan_and_ashley_at_mohai“While I was familiar with several studies that used historical data sets, I was unaware of the existence of an entire field of historical ecology. This class expanded my perspective on what constitutes ‘data’ and reminded me of the importance of interdisciplinary research.”

“The broad range of readings related to historical ecology and the discussions that resulted were so interesting. Tangents were frequent but just as interesting as the on-topic discussions.

“The field trips were one of the best parts of the class.”

“This was an amazing discussion course.”

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