Qualifying Exam Topic Areas (EEB Track)

Following are some focal topic areas that have been assigned to guide preparation for the written component of EEB qualifying exams. Click here for examples of eventual questions stemming from each focal area.

 1. Food webs, trophic structure, and the role of abiotic forces (especially temperature). Consider green webs and brown webs, including basal resources.

2. Drivers, feedbacks, and pattern-process relationships in ecosystem disturbance systems, with special reference to biotic disturbance and the challenges of scale.

3. Evolution of continuous traits.

4. The intersection of forest science and ecology
Identify and master the prominent intellectual topics that connect forest science and ecology. For example:

a. The topics of intraspecific competition and self-thinning from classical academic ecology are broadly overlapping with the theory and practice of managing forests for sustainably high growth and yield of forest products – and both areas overlap with the interests of ecosystem scientists in carbon flux and carbon life cycles.
b. The practical challenge for foresters of managing pests and pathogens in high productivity systems is linked to rich basic research on plant allocation theory, plant defenses, population dynamics, top-down vs. bottom-up controls, and diversity – stability relations, among others.
c. Choice of tree species in intensively managed forest production systems is related to invasion ecology (e.g., enemy release hypothesis and related ideas),
d. Find other such examples.

Semiochemicals, movement, and aggregation.
5. Semiochemicals, communication, movement, and aggregation behavior in animals; with emphasis on evolutionary and mechanistic processes, as well as implications for dispersal, dispersion, and spatiotemporal patterns in abundance.

6. Plant-herbivore interactions, with special reference to evolutionary processes.

7. Carbon fluxes and pools in terrestrial ecosystems

8. Plant population and community ecology.

9. Vegetation mediated feedback systems in ecosystems, e.g. feedbacks between vegetation-soil, vegetation-climate, and vegetation-animals.

10. Plant-herbivore interactions (including but not restricted to chemical ecology, nutritional ecology, plant defense theory, and foraging behavior). Consider the gamut of taxa and ecosystem types. Note the historical development of important ideas.

11. Temperature and biological processes: How does temperature influence biological processes at various levels of biological organization? What are emergent properties from increased levels of biological complexity, and what patterns are predictable?

12. Sexual Selection Theory

13. Thermal physiology, ectotherms, and climate change

14. Strengths and weaknesses of using microbes to test ecological and evolutionary theory

15 Molecular Evolution

16. Spatial ecology and evolution

17. Multi-species plant-animal interactions
There is growing recognition that community context can alter the direction and intensity of pairwise species interactions. Be able to invoke theory and empirical work from community and evolutionary ecology to compare and contrast how community context can alter the ecological and evolutionary consequences of pairwise interactions. Are there patterns that transcend multiple interaction types? Do not limit yourself to multispecies mutualisms. You should consider other types of plant-animal interactions, and in fact, some of the best work on multispecies interactions may lie outside of the plant-animal interactions realm.

18. Environmental chemistry and chemical limnology, with a focus on fate and transport of C,N,P,O, Hg and Cd in aquatic ecosystems

19. Ecology and evolution of host-pathogen (and host-parasite) interactions

20. Plant physiological ecology and ecosystem ecology

21. Pollination Ecology

22. Life history theory

23. Epidemiology: e.g., what is it; what are the important theories, data, papers and research trajectories; how does epidemiology intersect with ecology and evolution; how does it relate to "emerging infectious diseases"?

24. Physiological ecology of arthropods, with emphasis on consequences for distribution and abundance

25. Population genetics

26. Pollination ecology

27. Life history theory with an emphasis on similarities and differences between plants, animals, and microbes (including fungi).

28. The biology of communication

29. Natural selection in the early life stages of plants (includes seed and seedling predation/herbivory, i.e. these aspects of consumer-resource relations).

30. How does the spatial and temporal distribution of resources influence the evolution of social systems and movement behavior (dispersal and migration)? In addition to ungulates, pay particular attention to other groups (e.g., birds, insects, etc.).

31. The evolutionary and ecological consequences of omnivory

32. Global change freshwater ecology: What are the large predicted drivers of ecological change in freshwater systems, and how will these drivers interact with one another?

33. The evolutionary ecology of mutualisms vs. other species interactions.
Be able to invoke theory and empirical work from community ecology and evolutionary biology to compare and contrast mutualisms vs. other types of species interactions. Consider mutualisms more broadly than plant-pollinator interactions. You should be able to readily discuss works from many different types of mutualisms (e.g., plant-pollinator, mycorrhizae, lichens, marine symbioses, etc). What, if any, are the useful theories that transcend interaction types? What are the most useful theories that are specific to one interaction type, and what limits their generality?

34. Conditional interactions. There are exciting research programs in quite a few different disciplines that are showing how the nature of interspecies interactions change depending upon the context (e.g., 3 of our 6 ecology job candidates). Review this broad literature (including, for example, plant-pollinator, mycorrhizal relations, and invertebrate interactions, as well as vertebrates). Consider mechanisms, consequences, theory, and emerging questions.

35. Sexual selection, species recognition, and speciation

36. Plant population dynamics, especially dynamics of rainforest trees.

37. Coexistence and co-occurence of species and genotypes.

38. Competition theory and its applications to microbes. How does interspecific competition influence the structure and function of microbial communities? Do well known theories that have been developed for plants and animals (e.g., "r-K selection", Grime's model of "3 primary strategies", and Reynolds' modification of Grime's model for phytoplankton) also apply to microbes? What would it mean if microbial communities were - or were not - like plant and animal communities in the causes and consequences of interspecific competition?

Behavioral Ecology

39. . Identify and master the most important theories of Behavioral Ecology (e.g., the theories that would organize how you would teach an upper level undergraduate course in Behavioral Ecology).
40. Be able to critique the theoretical structure of Behavioral Ecology. For example, be prepared to identify gaps in the theory, nascent promising theories, and time honored theories that appear to be threatened by new data
50. Be prepared to outline and rationalize a research proposal that would make fundamental contributions to Behavioral Ecology (and which does not involve odonates or sexual selection).

Population Ecology

51. Behavioral ecology, including foraging behavior and habitat selection as it relates to population regulation and community interactions.

52. How are herbivore population dynamics influenced by plants? In addition to ungulates, pay particular attention to other groups (e.g., birds, insects, etc.)

53. Diversity, food webs, functional groups, and functional redundancy across different types of ecosystems.

54. Invasion biology

55. Fisheries biology and management; stream hydrology and morphology; forest-stream-watershed interactions (physical and biological); knowledge of the Hubbard Brook research data base on streams, limnology, evolutionary ecology of salmonids.

56. Nitrogen in biological systems.  What is the role of N in biological systems? Consider the scale from molecules to ecosystems. Be proficient with the important theories to explain (1) the functional importance of N in physiological systems, (2) pools and fluxes of nitrogen in individual organisms, (3) consequences of variable N supply rates for populations and communities, and (4) pools and fluxes of N in ecosystems of all sizes. At a more general level, be able to contrast the biogeochemistry of N, P, and C.

a. Carbon cycling on local to global scales. what's the current state of the field, what are the landmark papers
b. Allochthonous subsidies from terrestrial to aquatic and vice-versa
c. Putting topics a and b into an evolutionary context
d. Issues of scale in ecological experiments

Community Ecology/Evolution

57. The consequences of body size for demographic patterns in extant animals and plants (in ecological time, ignoring evolutionary change).  B. Factors influencing the evolution of body size in animals and plants.

Species Role in Ecosystem Processes

58. Physiology of elemental flux through organisms, including stoichiometry and energetics

Models for disease dynamics, including cholera. What are the major types of models that have been developed by ecologists and/or epidemiologists to describe the spatial and/or temporal dynamics of disease? Be sure to consider models for animal and plant diseases, as well as those that affect humans; both theoretical and empirical models; and models developed for a generalized disease vs. a specific disease. What are the similarities and differences between these models? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Then consider the cholera situation specifically. To what extent are models developed for cholera similar to, or different from, models developed for other diseases? Who are the major movers and shakers in cholera modeling, and which team do you think is most likely to provide a useful predictive tool? Why?