Dr. Jason Smith, Biology

Sustainable Forest and Agricultural Ecosystems

Course Syllabus: BIOL 128

As a participant in the 2016 Valley Ridge Study Group I planned a course entitled BIO128: The Secret Life of Plants. As an introductory biology course, BIO128 will teach concepts about organisms, populations and ecology, while paying special attention to plant ecology in both agricultural and natural systems.

Plants are connected to issues of sustainability through many ties—including agriculture, nutrient management, invasive species management, conservation, and more. The course I planned will use local manifestations of these issues to engage students in sustainability thinking. One of our first lab projects will be to compare the impacts of deer browsing on tree regeneration between the Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary and a nearby state game land. Students will study the plant communities and wrestle with implications of rapid community change in the presence of high deer populations and invasive species. We will also visit the Dickinson College Farm to witness first-hand sustainable agricultural practices including composting and cover cropping, and the use of riparian buffers to protect stream quality. Other aspects of sustainable agriculture will be covered in lectures, such ecological approaches to controlling pests and diseases and to increasing plant access to nutrients.

The concept of sustainability extends beyond ecological issues to social ones. Although social applications are largely beyond the scope of BIO128, students will be encouraged to think about connections between agriculture and human socioeconomic wellness by participating in at least two of the Fall 2016 Clarke Forum lectures on the topic of food.

Taken together, these experiences will help students to become more sustainability-minded with regard to land use, conservation and agriculture. Furthermore the exposure may serve as gateways for some students to get involved with key Dickinson sustainability initiatives including the Dickinson College Farm, the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, and the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues.