tropical forest

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Ecology format


Review paper & group project assignment


In BIOL 354, two of your assignments for your discussion section include participating in a group presentation on 1 of 6 pre-selected ecological issues and, individually, writing a review paper that discusses how your group issue is relevant in an ecosystem of your choice. This project will involve working with several of your classmates to research an ecological issue, and to then construct a written report and an oral presentation on the issue. Each person in the class is responsible for producing and turning in an original written research paper. The presentation, however, is given jointly with the members of your group.

The Assignment

Ecologists today recognize that humans are altering the world’s habitats and affecting biodiversity in many ways. Human activity has been linked to rapid declines in the earth’s biodiversity; there is evidence that we are currently in another mass extinction event. Consequently, many ecologists apply their research results, and tailor their research programs, to the conservation of species, communities, populations, or ecosystems. This research is critical in at least three ways: (1) we need to understand how “natural” communities function if we are to understand how our actions disrupt them; (2) we need to understand how heavily altered communities have been affected; and (3) we need to develop priorities and strategies for conserving and restoring communities and ecosystems that have been damaged through our actions.

One of the most important steps that we can take to help reverse the loss of biodiversity is to raise awareness of the problem and the solutions that can help reverse the damage. Therefore, in this class you will be responsible for writing a report and giving an oral presentation on the ways in which humans threaten the world’s biodiversity, and potential solutions to these problems.

For this assignment, you will collaborate with your group members to select a threat to biodiversity that interests you.Each individual will pick a different ecosystem to write his/her paper about. The paper will discuss how that threat is currently affecting the organisms, trophic interactions, nutrient cycles, and subsequent biodiversity in the selected ecosystem. The focus of the paper is not how humans cause or influence on the threat to biodiversity.

Some example ecosystems (there are many more you could choose) that are threatened by one or more of these factors are:

• coral reefs

• temperate forests

* arctic tundra

• rivers, streams, and lakes

• estuaries like San Francisco Bay or Chesapeake Bay

• tropical rain forests and jungles

• marshes, and wetlands like the Everglades

• islands throughout the world, particularly in the tropics

• pelagic and benthic areas of the oceans

For example, you could choose to research the effects of CO2 increases on the arctic tundra or how introduced species affect island habitats.

For this assignment you will do the following:

1.You will be placed in a group of about 4-5 people in your discussion section that will be assigned to a major anthropogenic threat. The pre-selected threats include: Habitat Loss, Overharvesting, Climate Change, Invasive Species, Introduced Disease, and Pollution.

2.Within the subject of that threat, you (individually) will select a topic for your review paper. Your TA must approve your choice, and can help you select a topic that is not too broad or too narrow (for example, choosing to review how pollution threatens the entire world would be too broad; choosing how nitrogen runoff affects different types of water sources would be better).

3.Research your topic. Your references will be research articles published in scientific journals and books. Many applicable journals and books are available in the SDSU library, and many articles from journals can even be downloaded from a campus computer for free.

4.After researching your topic, you will write an 8-10 page review paper. Remember that each person in the group must turn in their own review paper, written in their own words.It is important that overlap between people within a group is minimal, though some of the general information may be similar.This is usually accomplished by people within a group selecting different ecosystems, and writing about how the ecological threat affects their ecosystem in particular (e.g., how climate change affects the arctic tundra is quite different compared to how it affects the coral reef).You will want to stay in communication with your fellow group members to make sure there is not too much overlap in the topics selected for your review papers.

Due Dates for Review Paper and Presentation:

Five references: 2/9

Paper Outline: 3/2

Paper Optional Draft: 3/16

Presentation Outline: 3/16

Final Paper: 4/6

Group presentation: 4/20 (regardless of presentation date)

All assignments should be typed and saved as a .doc or .docx and uploaded to the appropriate link in Blackboard by 11:59 PM on the due date. As well as a hard copy brought to class the day it is due, if a hard copy of the assignment is not turned into class then it is considered late and points will be deducted. The one exception is the group presentation, which should be in Powerpoint or similar format and emailed to your TA by the beginning of your class period.

Other helpful information

Here is a list of journals that will be helpful to you (note that there are many more journals that may help you that are not on this list):


Ecological Applications

Ecological Monographs

Conservation Biology

Biological Conservation

Conservation Ecology (an online journal)


Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology


Ecology Letters

In each of these journals you can find examples of review papers.Note that good review papers are organized, thorough, and offer suggestions for future research or solutions to problems at the end.

Paper Grading Criteria and Guidelines

Content: 50%.This is the most important part of your paper. As the author of a review paper, you job is to synthesize the current literature on a topic of interest. Make sure that you build a strong argument and that you convey important information to the reader. Be certain to focus on the environmental issue and its relevance to ecology. Your paper should not be about how humans are impacted by your topic! Support your topic sentences with main points/conclusions drawn from articles found during your literature search. Avoid filling your paper with “fluff”, unimportant information that takes up space but is not relevant to your main points. You should not summarize one article for more than one paragraph and you should not go into too much detail describing the methods used in the papers unless absolutely necessary.You should have a minimum of 10 sources cited in your paper.

Style and Organization: 20%.Part of writing an effective paper is learning how to write clearly and concisely.Avoid using flowery language, as it can be awkward and often times misused.Colloquial language is inappropriate for a scientific review article.Avoid repetition of the same word/phrases.You want to write your paper in a similar style and tone as the research papers you are referencing.

Do not use quotes in your paper. You should paraphrase and give proper credit by citing the author(s); direct quotes are not commonly used in science writing. Also, copying sentences (word for word, in part or whole) from a scientific article and citing the source is still considered plagiarism and will result in point deductions at the very least. You need to write the ideas in your own words!

Each paragraph should convey a singular message that should not be detailed anywhere else in the paper.Jumping back and forth between points confuses the reader and obscures the valuable information contained in your paper, so make sure that your writing in a logical progression.The use of section headings and subheadings can be extremely helpful in structuring a paper, and will make it easier for people to read.Use transitions between paragraphs so that you writing does not appear choppy.

Within paragraphs, sentences should be properly constructed (e.g. subject-verb agreement).Watch out for run-on sentences and fragments.The sentences that are easiest to read are the simplest — don’t try to use overly complex wording.Each sentence within your paragraph should support the thesis and flow in a logical order.

Grammar: 15%.Make sure you know when and where to use commas, apostrophes, semicolons, colons, quotation marks, etc.If you are not sure, look it up. Students in this class frequently have points deducted in this section because of subject-verb agreement errors, misspellings, and incorrect word usage.Be sure to perform a sentence-by-sentence edit before submitting your final draft (and before submitting the optional draft).Having someone else read your paper for grammar errors can be extremely useful.

Literature Cited: 10%.As a college student and budding scientist, it is critical that you learn how to properly cite the sources from which you obtain information.A complete citation includes the reference to the source in the text of your paper (in text reference) and the full reference given in the “Literature Cited” section at the end of the paper. In general, having more sources is better because it shows you’ve done extensive research, but avoid including little bits of unimportant information from a variety of sources just to drive up your numbers. You must have at least 10 citations for your final paper with at least 8 citations from the primary literature.Additional sources from secondary and tertiary literature (e.g. books, government documents) may be used, but these do not count toward the eight minimum primary sources.Do not cite web-based resources using links.This will result in point deductions. If you find something relevant on the web or your textbook, you must follow its source to the original work and cite the original reference. Cite references correctly in the Literature Cited section and in text (See below).

In this class, we will use the format for the journal Ecology. This may be different than other formats you have learned, so follow it carefully.Refer to the Literature Searching and Citations document on blackboard for proper citation format.

Format: 5%.

Page length: 8-10 pages, double-spaced. This length does not include figures and tables (optional) and the Literature Cited section. Must be at least ¾ of the 8th page to be considered 8 pages.

Page format: 1-inch margins and 12-point Times or Times New Roman font

Organism names: scientific names (genus and species) go in italics and common names are lowercase; family names do not go in italics, but start with a capital letter.

Section order: (1) Paper title with your name, your group topic, and section number; (2) the Introduction; (3) the Body of the paper (organized with section headings); (3) Conclusions and Directions for Future Research; (4) Literature Cited section; and (5) an Appendix of figures and tables (optional)

Need Help With Your Paper?

Margaret Henderson, our Science Reference Librarian, can help with literature searching


SDSU Library Tutoring Services offers Drop-in Tutoring for Writing (Rhetoric & Writing Department).


Phone: RWS Department at 619-594-6515


Here is the rubric by which final papers will be graded.Note that this provides a general guideline for grading which may be adjusted by your TA.


points possible



Clear introduction with overview of the topic


Statement of purpose/goals


Content matches introduction


Provides background information on topic

Detailed ecology of problem described and supported with research (at least 8 citations)

Addresses effects to biodiversity

Possible solutions addressed and supported


Summarizes main points (briefly)


Discusses broader implications and importance of the topic

Provides at least 2 specific recommendations for future research (supported by citations)


Correctly formatted in text and in Literature Cited


Proper use of citations

At least 10 sources from primary literature

Style and Organization

Sentence construction and flow


Wording choice (neither too informal nor too flowery)

Overall organization of topic (separation of ideas into sections and paragraphs)


Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation



Format (pages, spacing, font, etc)




Important tip for doing well on this assignment:

Ecological papers do not get published unless they contain detailed and useful information about the ecology of the system being studied.You should be able to find this in any published paper, including review papers.If you want to receive a good grade on your research review paper, your paper must also contain detailed and useful information on your study system (the study system consists of your threat and how it affects the ecosystem you have researched).Additionally, it must be demonstrated that you have a firm understanding of this information, as you should be very knowledgeable about your topic by the time you have completed this paper.You will demonstrate your understanding by explaining the relevant research for your topic in your own words.

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