Steve Beissinger’s Teaching Page

I currently teach Principles of Conservation Biology (ESPM C103/IB 156 – 4 credits) annually and alternate between offering a 3-credit graduate course (Demographic Methods of Population Viability Analysis – ESPM 284) and a 2-credit topical graduate seminar (ESPM 298). The latter includes recent seminars on the biology of climate change, and extinction. At Berkeley I have also taught The Biosphere (ESPM 2 – 3 credits) and American Wildlife (ESPM 106 – 3 units).

Principles of Conservation Biology is a survey course designed for upper-level undergraduates or beginning graduate students that examines the application of biological principles for conserving biological diversity. The course consists of two 1.5-hour lecture periods and one 1.5-hr discussion/lab. The latter, lead by graduate student instructors, is an important portion of the course because it amplifies the ideas presented in lecture through discussions, laboratory, computer sessions, and field trips. Labs included trips to the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and the Paleo Museum, as well as classroom and computing exercises.

In the first half of this course, we develop general principles of conservation biology. Biological diversity is defined at three different hierarchical levels (the gene, species and community, and ecosystem and landscape) and the processes that create and destroy diversity at each level are studied. The ecology of rarity and factors affecting the global distribution of biological diversity are examined. Extinction is studied from a historical and modern perspective. The genetic and demographic processes that erode biological diversity in small populations are presented, and an assessment of threatened biological diversity of the world is made. In the second half of the course, tools derived from ecology and genetics to preserve biological diversity are examined. Biogeographic theory is presented to understand the problems of habitat fragmentation and reserve design. Population viability assessment is used to evaluate risks of extinction. Ecosystem management is explored. Methods of intensive management of wild and captive populations of endangered species are examined. Biological concepts behind conservation planning and sustainable development are developed.

I developed a course specifically for graduate students entitled Demographic Methods for Population Viability Analysis (ESPM 284). It emphasizes quantitative skills, computer programming, and learning to write scientific papers. We work with three kinds of data that are primarily used to understand population dynamics – counts, demographic rates, and presence-absence data. My lectures teach techniques including deterministic and stochastic matrix models, single population models, and metapopulation models. Weekly problem sets are used to learn computational skills, and to develop scientific writing skills through interactive editing. Students do a semester-long research project of their choice. I also offer this course annually in the summer to employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, where I am an instructor.