Dr. David W. Tonkyn

Population ecology

Clemson University

     “Imagine if we taught baseball the way we teach science.  Until they were twelve, children would read about baseball technique and occasionally hear inspirational stories of the great baseball players.  They would answer quizzes about baseball rules.  Conservative coaches would argue that we ought to make children practice fundamental baseball skills, throwing the ball to second base twenty times in a row, followed by tagging first base seventy times.… Undergraduates might be allowed, under strict supervision, to reproduce famous historic baseball plays.  But only in graduate school would they, at last, actually get to play a game.  If we taught baseball this way, we might expect about the same degree of success in the Little League World Series that we currently see in science performance.” 

                         - Alison Gopnik



Ecology Laboratory - Biol 4450 (2 credits)

My goals in ecology laboratory are first, to get students outdoors and increase their awareness of natural history and, second, to carry out the same sorts of studies that professional ecologists do, albeit on a smaller scale and with less care about taxonomy. 


Over time, this course has evolved so that all of the exercises are conducted outdoors.  Our first lab explores the physical and biological changes that occur from woodland seeps to large, slow-moving rivers, and how creatures have adapted to these changes. This is a chance to get acquainted, and to become more sensitive to natural history around us.


In subsequent labs, students learn to census population densities in the wild, using plot and plotless methods for plants and mark-recapture methods for animals.  They also learn to measure plant and animal diversities, and study how they vary with environmental gradients such as slope and aspect.   We study demography, pollination, migration and even island biogeography, using habitat rather than real islands, and introduce them to citizen science.  At the end of the semester, each student must present a ten-minute talk on a research project that he or she designed, much as a new graduate student might do at a conference.