Please note that parts of this syllabus are subject to change.

Contact *

Dr. Clare Steele
Office: Bell Tower West 1181
Office Hours: Tu 12:00 – 1:30pm, Th 12:00 – 1:30pm (and by appointment)

Class Meets *

Lecture: M 9:00am to 11:50am in Sierra Hall 1422

Lab: Section 1 TU 9:00am to 11:50am in Sierra Hall 2324 (& field locations)

Lab: Section 2 TH 9:00am to 11:50am in Sierra Hall 2324 (& field locations)

Final Date:  Monday December 10th 08:00 – 10:00am

Course Description *

This course explores issues surrounding the conservation of biodiversity. Topics to be covered include: species-, population-, and ecosystem-level issues, biodiversity, extinction, sustained yield, exotic species, and reserve design. Management implications and the ecology of issues are integrated throughout the course.

Course Materials *

  • Primack, R.B. & A.A. Sher. An Introduction to Conservation Biology.Sinauer Associates Inc. ISBN 9781605354736
  • Additional weekly readings are on Canvas

NOTE: Safety training must be completed according to schedule or you will be dropped from the class

Course Objectives and Outcomes *

Course Objectives

The field of Conservation Biology grew out of an urgent need to address the loss of biodiversity, the extinction of species and problems of environmental degradation. This course will give you the necessary background to begin to deal with these challenges. We will incorporate lessons and concepts from biology and ecology in order to stem this degradation, within the context of the current socio-ecological climate. Conservation biologists are challenged to bring an effective, rigorous scientific approach into an often chaotic and charged arena. Even if you will not become a field ecologist or land manager, as a private citizen you will increasingly be called upon to evaluate such efforts and determine both public and private policy via ballot measures, membership in civic organizations, and which products and services you choose to support with your money.

Learning Outcomes: Concepts

By the end of this course, you should understand and be able to clearly articulate:

  • the major developments in the history of biological conservation (how we got here)
  • why conservation efforts are needed (identify problems)
  • the pros and cons of potential conservation alternatives (what our options are)
  • the biological rationale behind given conservation efforts (why actions were taken)
  • common inventory and monitoring approaches used to assess biological resources
  • common conservation methodologies (how we typically conserve)
  • policy, legal, and public opinion issues surrounding conservation efforts (our constraints)

Learning Outcomes: Skills

Conservation biology, like all professional fields, has its own grammar, terminology, and rhetoric. To interpret the primary literature and engage in meaningful discussions, you will need to familiarize yourself with this language. As we learn about the theory and practice of conserving our biological riches, we will simultaneously be developing and refining a variety of skills not confined to the conservation arena.

At the conclusion of our course you will be able to:

  • evaluate scientific papers and popular press accounts of technical issues
  • interpret general experimental designs
  • interpret quantitative data in tabular and graphical forms
  • have confidence in your own interpretations

You should also be able to demonstrate a marked improvement in your:

  • technical writing
  • note taking
  • observations of natural landscapes

Course Structure

Our course will include classroom lectures, discussions, labs and field trips. We will head out into the field as much as possible during the semester. Wherever we are, we will be actively discussing conservation-related issues, this week’s readings, etc. This course will therefore emphasize participation, discussion, and intellectual exploration. Each day, you should be prepared to explore concepts and perspectives aggressively and not worry about saying the “wrong” thing.

We will also have the opportunity to meet several special guest stars who are all actively working in conservation related fields in southern California and I encourage you to ask them questions about both their current work and their career experiences.

Learning Assumptions & Expectations *

Each of you has the potential to succeed in this class. Your success in this class is our mutual goal!

Respect is one of the foundations of an environment conducive to learning. This class will have a positive and respectful learning environment. In class discussions, everyone should be courteous and respectful of others: disrespectful comments or behavior will not be tolerated. This includes silencing your cell phones, avoiding web surfing, etc.

One of the most important aspects of learning is being able to be an active listener. As you listen to your classmates, be attentive and supportive. Everyone has something valuable to contribute to our class and your success.

Our in-class lectures and discussion will build from the readings so it is necessary that you complete all readings by the first class in the week they are assigned. We will not be able to discuss everything covered in the readings, but you will be responsible for the content.

Times are tough and we talk about a lot of potentially depressing subjects in this course. Despite this, we all need to stay positive. Humor and a wry take on things help your overall enjoyment, ability to focus, and comprehension.

I am always open to feedback as to how I can best meet your needs as a student. Please do not be afraid to make suggestions on how this course can be improved or adjusted.

Course Policies *

Disability Statement:

If you are a student with a disability requesting reasonable accommodations in this course, please visit Disability Accommodations and Support Services (DASS) located on the second floor of Arroyo Hall, or call 805-437-3331. All requests for reasonable accommodations require registration with DASS in advance of need. You can apply for DASS services here. Faculty, students and DASS will work together regarding classroom accommodations. You are encouraged to discuss approved accommodations with your faculty.

 Attendance Policy

You will attend all class sessions, arriving before the start of class. For absences with extenuating circumstances related to a medical condition or disability for which you may require reasonable accommodation, please refer to the Disability Statement.

Academic Dishonesty:

By enrolling at CSU Channel Islands, students are responsible for upholding the University’s policies and the Student Conduct Code. Academic integrity and scholarship are values of the institution that ensure respect for the academic reputation of the University, students, faculty, and staff. Cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration with another student, knowingly furnishing false information to the University, buying, selling or stealing any material for an examination, or substituting for another person may be considered violations of the Student Conduct Code (located at If a student is found responsible for committing an act of academic dishonesty in this course, the student may receive academic penalties including a failing grade on an assignment or in the course, and a disciplinary referral will be made and submitted to the Dean of Students office. For additional information, please see the faculty Academic Senate Policy on Academic Dishonesty, also in the CI Catalog. Please ask about my expectations regarding academic dishonesty in this course if they are unclear.

Campus Tutoring Services 

You are encouraged to make early and regular use of campus tutors and/or peer-led study groups, beginning in the second week of the semester. For campus tutoring locations, subjects and hours, go to:


Civil Discourse Statement

All students, staff and faculty on our campus are expected to join in making our campus a safe space for communication and civil discourse. If you are experiencing discomfort related to the language you are hearing or seeing on campus (in or out of classes), please talk with a trusted faculty or staff member. Similarly, please consider whether the language that you are using (in person or on Canvas) respects the rights of others to “engage in informed discourse and express a diversity of opinions freely and in a civil manner” (language from Academic Senate Resolution SR 16-01, Commitment to Equity, Inclusion, and Civil Discourse within our Diverse Campus Community).


Emergency Intervention and Basic Needs Statement  

CSUCI’s Basic Needs Program 

If you or someone you know is experiencing unforeseen or catastrophic financial issues, skipping meals or experiencing homelessness/housing insecurity (e.g. sleeping in a car, couch surfing, staying with friends), please know that you are not alone. There are resources on campus that may assist you during this time. The Dolphin Pantry is currently located in Arroyo Hall and offers free food, toiletries and basic necessities for current CI students. For additional assistance, please contact the Dean of Students office at (805) 437-8512 or visit Bell Tower 2565. Please visit the website for the most up to date information on the Basic Needs Program at CI:


Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

CAPS is pleased to provide a wide range of services to assist students in achieving their academic and personal goals.  Services include confidential short-term counseling, crisis intervention, psychiatric consultation, and 24/7 phone counseling.  CAPS is located in Bell Tower East, 1867 and can be reached at 805-437-2088 (select option 1 on voicemail for 24/7 phone counseling); you can also email us at or visit our website at


Evaluation *

You will be graded on your participation, reading summaries, field trip/lab write-ups, research paper, and exams as follows:

20% Final Exam
15% Midterm Exam
10% Quizzes
20% Field Trips & Lab Write-Ups
5% Participation
5% Reading Summaries
20% Research Paper
5% Research Presentation

Grade Break Down: A = 90-100%, B = 80-89%, C = 70-79%, D = 60-69%, F ≤ 59%
Please note that I use the “+” and “-” system (e.g. B- = 80-82%, B = 83–86%, B+ = 87-89, etc)

Exams *

There will be 2 exams: 1 midterm and a final. The final will be cumulative. The exams will consist of short essay/ short answer (one word to one or two paragraphs), true/false, multiple choice, and graphs or other figures. These exams will be designed to test your ability to synthesize information from lecture and think logically about the implications of this information. Answers will be graded on factual content, logic, and clarity. The exams will be based on material covered during lecture, textbook readings and supplemental assigned research papers included to help you understand the material presented during lecture.

Quizzes *

Quizzes function partly as a mini-review of lecture material and concepts and are a motivator for you to not fall behind on readings and other class work. We will generally have one every other week. Each quiz should take around  10-15 minutes and will cover recent lecture, reading, and/or lab material with short answers, multiple choice, and/or fill-in-the-blank questions. Quizzes will generally be given online but may occasionally be given on paper, in class.

Reading Summaries *

Reading scientific papers, agency reports, and even articles in the popular press can be quite difficult. You may get bogged down in the many details or controversies of a particular paper or you may skim too fast to capture the main points. Writing a summary of a research paper can help you identify the main points and the thesis of the paper. The first time you read through one of our class readings, make a quick note of important points or ideas. Then read through again, trying to understand where these points fit into the overall structure of the main ideas. Finally, you should be able to synthesize your new knowledge within the wider context of what you already know.

To assist with reading comprehension, five times during the semester you will turn in a two-paragraph summary of your impressions of a given week’s primary literature readings (i.e. the mandatory stuff on eReserve, not readings from our text book or readings in the “supplemental” folders within eReserves). You will not comment on every paper, but rather you will choose one mandatory eReserve reading that you find the most interesting from that week’s list (although you do need to read all of them). Start your summary off with a clear, single sentence set apart from the rest of your summary that describes the central theme or conclusion of the piece. Whenever possible, state this as a hypothesis. End your paper with 2 to 3 bullet points highlighting a strength of the paper and 2 to 3 bullet points highlighting a weakness of the paper.

Example reading summary – click on the image for a closer view.

Field Trips *

We will make several field trips over the course of the semester. These trips are designed to get you out into the field and show you as many ecological communities as possible, running the gamut from relatively “healthy” to highly impacted.

Whenever we are in the field please be sure to bring or wear:

  • field notebook, pen, clipboard, and large rubber band
  • camera (not necessary, but may help you remember info for your write-up)
  • hat and/or sunscreen
  • water bottle
  • suitable clothing and shoes
  • a positive attitude

While a camera is not necessary, please do feel free to bring one. Many students find taking pictures helps them remember various aspects of our trips or subsequently identify organisms. Attendance and enthusiastic participation in field trips will contribute towards your class participation grade.

Lab Write-ups *

You will be submitting field trip summaries/lab write-ups. Normally, I will give a set of specific questions to be answered in your write-up, but occasionally you will simply do a brief summary of the field site and our visit. In general, you will need to present your observations and provide a one-page discussion of any results, summarizing the important findings and trying to interpret them in the context of the overall exercise and course themes. Lab write-ups are typically due one week after the lab.

Species Status Research Paper *

Species status reviews are comprehensive assessments of a species’ biological status and its threats, are often necessary to gather information needed for species management and can be the basis for making determinations as to whether a species warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). You will choose a species found in California from the list below that interests you and writing a species overview will allow you to get an in-depth feel for the challenges associated with protecting our biological heritage.

Your core writing assignment is a traditional research paper directed at a professional scientific audience (i.e. me). For most of us, writing clear and concise prose does not come easily. Recognizing this, we will progress through several discrete phases wherein you will be focusing and revising your paper. You may choose to focus the entirety of your paper on the single most pressing conservation issue related to your species or to focus on the overall palette of issues surrounding your organism. Whatever you choose you must summarize the natural history of the organism and describe the historic (>200 years ago), recent past (1900-2000), current (with the past decade), and future (50-100 years from now) abundance, distribution, and management of your species in California.

Based on previous experience, the following section headings for your paper are suggested, although you are by no means limited to this exact organization and are free to adapt your paper’s headings to the needs of your particular critter. Experience has shown using such section headers leads to clearer organization and a better-composed piece of writing overall.

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Natural History
  • Abundance and Distribution (you may with to use separate
  • subsections here: historic, recent past, current, and future)
  • Conservation Challenges
  • Summary or Conclusion

Due Dates for Writing Assignments (Note: most of these are guidelines to keep you on track throughout the semester. Firm deadlines are underlined).

Week 2 Choose your topic TU 9/4 & TH 9/6
Week 5 Reference list (≥10 peer-reviewed) TU 9/25 & TH 9/27
Week 6 Outline TU 10/2 & TH 10/4
Week 10 1st Complete Draft Research Paper (for student peer evaluation) (BRING 2 COPIES TO CLASS) TU 10/30 & TH 11/1
Week 12 Abstract TU 11/13 & TH 11/15
Week 13 Final Complete Draft Research Paper MON 11/19

Your research paper may well touch on much of the controversy over management of your species, but the emphasis must be on the biological issues involved. Research papers will be minimum 5 pages (12-point font, 1-inch margins, single-spaced), follow the citation format of the Journals of the Ecological Society of America (examples will be distributed later and are on CI Learn), and draw from primary literature as much as possible (using a minimum of 10 peer-reviewed papers). Tables and Figures are welcome and may even be necessary in some contexts, but do not count towards your total page count (neither does your Abstract nor Literature Cited section). Please realize that by a “draft” of your research paper, I am referring to a complete and thorough version of your paper up to that point (proper formatting, complete Literature Cited section, etc.).

Candidate species for your research paper:

white abalone Louisiana crayfish western diamondback rattlesnake
red abalone desert tortoise El Segundo blue butterfly
California lobster Humboldt squid gypsy moth
blue whale Red-tailed Hawk California sea lion
grizzly bear Pacific tree frog Pampas grass
black-tailed deer northern pike Arundo donax
Joshua tree American badger blue gum (eucalyptus)
pronghorn Chinese mitten crab California redwood
salt cedar Common Raven long-jawed mudsucker
Great Blue Heron salt marsh bird’s beak Island Loggerhead Shrike
Brown Pelican Pismo clam Devil’s Hole pupfish
ring tailed cat Erodium cicutarium quagga mussel
coyote common earthworm vernal pool fairy shrimp
black oak Lithopoma gibberosa purple urchin
Sargassum muticum California Gnatcatcher Argentine ant
African clawed frog chamise quaking Aspen
Brazilian pepper tree California poppy Pacific sardine
Batillaria attramentaria western ringneck snake arroyo southwestern toad
Norway rat western pond turtle Great Basin bristlecone pine
giant kelp Andrena submoesta California freshwater shrimp
bobcat Coast live oak valley elderberry longhorn beetle
California sea otter Pacific cordgrass sandy beach tiger beetle
Springville Clarkia Western mastiff bat Santa Ana River woolly-star

Getting Help with Your Writing *

Writing is an essential skill and the structure and deadlines included in the species profile assignment are designed to give you opportunities to improve with each draft. It is always helpful to have multiple reviewers look over your work and give you their input. We will have an in-class peer review session and I strongly encourage you to also have your roommate, sister, friend, or whomever look over your drafts. This can be very beneficial and is the exact same thing I and other scientists do when we write our scientific papers.

ESRM-specific writing help can be found at and from our Technical Writing Coordinator.

The CSU Channel Islands Campus Writing Guide has program specific guidelines designed to help you with your writing. It is available for download as a pdf on CI Learn under the course “information” page.

Another venue for getting feedback here on campus is the CSUCI Writing & Multiliteracy Center (WMC). They provide a range of free support services and programs that help them address 21st Century challenges of creatively thinking about and composing in written, oral, visual, and digital forms of communication.

Species Profile Research Presentation *

To share the knowledge you have learned about your profile species, you will give a short (~7 min) presentation to the class using a powerpoint or multi-media format. This brief presentation will be designed to summarize the important biological and management issues for a non-specialist audience.

Santa Cruz Island Field Trip *

The Fall 2018 Conservation Biology class has been awarded an Instructionally Related Activities grant to cover costs for a class field trip to Channel Islands National Park’s Santa Cruz Island. This island provides an amazing living classroom to explore many of the principles of conservation biology.
The island provides unparalled illustrations of many of the topics that we learn about throughout the semester, and your understanding of the material will be greatly enhanced by seeing these principles ‘in action’. Discussions and field exercises that will be conducted during our visit to the research station align with many of our existing class modules, including the following: Biodiversity; Landscape Ecology; Island Biogeography; Invasive Species; Protected Areas and MPAs; Monitoring and Mitigation; Species and Ecosystem Management.
The University will cover the cost of transportation by boat from Ventura harbor. You will need to bring your own food & water for while on the island. More details will be provided nearer the time.

The schedule for our visit is constrained by the boat schedule and availability. I expect that everyone will find this trip to be a wonderfully fun, energetic and educational experience. Attendance on this class trip is mandatory and will be reflected in your assignments and participation grades. Please talk to me early in the semester if you have any questions or concerns regarding the trip.

How to do well in this course: *

Focus on learning, not on your grade. Make sure you complete all of our assignments on time and do a thorough job. If you interact with the material and complete the course assignments, you should easily be able to pass this class. If you focus on cramming for quizzes or exams, you will miss out on most of what you are here for. This course should be fun and rewarding. Although it needs to be taken seriously and responsibly, this course should not create undue stress and anxiety. If you are having trouble with the assignments, not doing well on the exams, or having any other problems, please talk to me after class or in my office hours.

Lecture Notes & Active Learning

I will post most of my lectures on CI Learn within a day or two after a given lecture. I have ceased posting my complete lecture notes ahead of class as this discouraged many students from taking their own notes. Active note taking greatly improves retention and comprehension of information. In a similar vein, I discourage you from reading with highlighters. Instead, please use a pencil, pen, or pdf markup tool to underline, or to comment.  Reading with your pencil, pen, or markup tool encourages active reading: “three key points here almost identical to Chapter 5” is much better and easier to review than a series of fluorescent lines in the middle of a page.

Note taking is an essential skill and I strongly encourage you to be an active note taker throughout our class. Following a lecture or lab session, I expect you to copy over or (re)type up those notes. This process amounts to a study session wherein you organize the information in a manner most helpful to you (not necessarily in the order in which I presented it). Please be advised that simply downloading lecture notes or podcasts is in no way a substitute for coming to class.

A Brief Note on Professional Communication

In your academic and future careers the ability to write and communicate in a clear, concise, and professional manner is a necessary skill. You can only improve with practice, and I seek to give you a lot of practice this semester. Please realize that anything submitted to me at any time must be free of any grammatical, formatting, or referencing errors. Submitting a well-written assignment tells me you care about the content and the way you present yourself. Submitting anything (exam, lab write-up, etc.) that is poorly written simply cannot earn a high grade for that assignment. If you have any questions at all about what constitutes a well-written assignment, please do not hesitate to seek out help or advice from me, other faculty, the Multi-Literacy Center in Broome Library, or the Elements of Technical Writing book. Please also see the Getting Help with Your Writing section.

Accepted Formats For Assignments

The default format for submitting materials for this class is online submission of data and assignments through blackboard (CI Learn). It is important to label your files correctly so that when they are downloaded for grading, you get the credit you deserve. All submitted files will be labeled as follows: [Last Name]_[Assignment_Title]. For example: Yourname_DiversityLab.xlsx. Only .doc or .docx, or .xls or .xlsx formatted files will be accepted for such submissions.

With some of our labs, I will pool your individual data with the rest of the class and then distribute the aggregate class data to everyone for the lab write-up. In such cases, it is critical that you upload data by the stated deadline so that the class can proceed with the analysis.

The purpose of having deadlines for assignments is so that your progress and understanding of the lecture and lab material can be assessed, your time and effort is managed well throughout the semester and assignments don’t pile up towards the end of semester. Late work will not be accepted.