Conservation Biology and Biodiversity

by Molly Gurien

Course Overview: This course introduces the non science student to the modern field of conservation biology and the role of genetics, ecology, life history and biogeography in the preservation and maintenance of biodiversity. The course investigates the global decline of biodiversity, the causes of extinction and addresses the biological consequences of human actions.

Module Description: The discussion of ethics is an underlying thread within this course as we discuss the biological implications of our scientific, social, economic and cultural decisions. The intent of this module is to formalize an understanding of ethics and provide a framework for students to assist them in evaluating conservation and management decisions based on competing interests.

Early in the course, students will be presented with a scenario depicting a declining species. The species status, threats, and prognosis for survival will be provided. The ecological, social and economic consequences of protecting the species will be discussed. This scenario will be posted on the course Blackboard site and students will be required to participate in an on line discussion on whether or not to protect the species. This exercise will be further expanded upon with an in class discussion.

This discussion will then be followed up with a more formal lecture on ethics and decision making. Students can then apply these concepts to the previous case scenario and use them to justify their decisions, or possibly re-evaluate their decisions.

The principles and concepts of ethics would continue to be explored throughout the remainder of the quarter in the context of evaluating options for the protection of biodiversity.

Learning Outcomes: The primary learning outcome of adding the ethics module to this course would be that students:

  • gain experience making informed, rational decisions and are able to justify those decisions
  • understand the process of decision making and be able to evaluate the consequences of the decisions.
  • recognize that decision making in conservation biology is influenced not only by science, but by society biases and values, and is often made by designated decision makers
  • gain competence in underlying ethical issues in conservation biology
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