Ecology and Environmental Science

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Over two decades ago, our EcoBeaker® ecology labs first revolutionized the teaching of ecology using simulated experiments.

Now, over 100,000 students each year explore and learn basic and advanced ecological concepts using SimBio Virtual Labs and our new Interactive Chapters. Our ecology and environmental science labs provide a solid conceptual foundation for lectures, field exercises, and/or traditional "wet" labs in introductory biology/environmental science and upper level ecology courses. Our interactive chapters are just as comprehensive as those in traditional college-level textbooks, but actively engage students in thinking like scientists and problem-solving, improving their depth of understanding.

Learn more about SimBio Virtual Labs and Interactive Chapters that explore topics in ecology and environmental science by clicking the links in the table below.

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Chapter: Climate Change
Builds an understanding of the scientific evidence that climate is changing and elucidates the physics underlying global temperatures, the evidence on the impact of humans on the climate, and how changing temperatures may affect ecological systems.
Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior, Advanced
Key Concepts: Attribution of Climate Change | Basic Climatology | Climate Models | Detecting Trends | Ecological Effects of Climate Change | Evidence of Climate Change
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science
Chapter: Evolution for Ecology
Introduces evolution, natural selection, and selection and drift in quantitative traits, developed specifically for use in ecology classes. Uses examples with both basic and applied ecology interest, including sticklebacks and pest resistance to Bt cotton.
Table of Contents
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Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Evolution | Natural Selection | population genetics
Courses: Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics
Chapter: Population Growth
Explores geometric, exponential and logistic growth, density-dependent vs. independent controls, and more advanced topics in population growth. Simulated agricultural systems form the basis for problem-solving throughout the chapter.
Table of Contents
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Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Density Dependence vs. Independence | Doubling Time | Exponential Growth | Geometric Growth | Logistic Growth
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics
Chapter: Life History
Fundamental life history trade-offs set the stage for students to explore demography and life tables. Simulated experiments include several interesting model organisms, including humans.
Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Demographics and Age Structure | Growth Rates | Life Cycles | Life History Trade-offs | Life Table Parameters
Courses: Conservation Biology | Ecology
Chapter: Community Dynamics
Focuses on stories and simulations within Yellowstone National Park to explore succession and disturbance, food chains and food webs, and related topics.
Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Community Stability | Disturbance | Succession | trophic dynamics
Courses: Ecology
Chapter: Competition
Covers intraspecific and interspecific competition, including niches, logistic growth, Lotka-Volterra equations, and isoclines. Allows students to dynamically explore relevant quantitative models, including manipulating phase plane plots of the Lotka-Volterra competition equations.
Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Intraspecific and Interspecific Competition | Logistic Growth | Lotka-Volterra Equations | Niche | resource limitation
Courses: Ecology
Chapter: Predation, Herbivory and Parasitism
Introduces exploitative interactions between species. Includes classifications of each type of interaction and prey responses to exploitation, Lotka-Volterra predation equations, functional responses, and an exploration of the Red Queen hypothesis.
Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Classifying Exploitative Interactions | Functional Responses | Lotka-Volterra Equations | Predator-prey dynamics | Red queen hypothesis
Courses: Ecology
Chapter: Nutrient Cycling
Examines ecosystem and global cycling of nutrients, focusing on nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon. Introduces fluxes and pools, different components of the nitrogen cycle, the carbon cycle and how anthropogenic CO2 emissions are changing it, acid rain, and other related topics. A simulated watershed with both forest and lake habitats lets students explore how human activities can impact nutrient balance.
Table of Contents
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Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Acid Rain | Carbon Cycle | Nitrogen Cycle | Phosphorus Cycle | watersheds
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science
Chapter: Physiological Ecology
Uses a variety of different plant and animal examples to explore aspects of organism physiology that affect ecology. The chapter has a particular focus on temperature and water, with a discussion of how those two factors affect the types of plant communities seen around the globe, and a section on the heat and water balance equations. One section explores the difference between adaptation and acclimation in a physiological context. A final section discusses different types of photosynthesis, water balance, and heterotrophic ingestion.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior, Advanced
Key Concepts: Adaptation vs. Acclimation | Climate Diagrams | Heat and Water Balance Equations | Heterotrophic Metabolism | Law of the Minimum | potential evapotranspiration | transpiration and water potential | types of photosynthesis
Courses: Ecology
Lab (Tutorial): Isle Royale
This very popular lab has been revised to include onscreen instructions, feedback for students, and a new graphing exercise. The lab explores important population biology concepts, including exponential and logistic growth and carrying capacity, using the classic predator-prey system of moose and wolves on an island in Lake Superior. An unexpected twist at the end creates a great topic for discussion.
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: undefined
Courses: Applied Ecology | Community Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Majors | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Population Biology
Lab (Workbook): Isle Royale Demo video available
This popular laboratory explores basic population biology concepts including exponential and logistic growth and carrying capacity. It is based on the textbook example of a predator-prey system involving wolves and moose on an island in Lake Superior. Students start out by characterizing the growth of a colonizing population of moose in the absence of predators. Next they introduce wolves, and study the resulting predator-prey cycles. Do predators increase or decrease the health of their prey populations? Students investigate this question by sampling the energy stores of moose with and without wolves present. Finally, they try changing the plant growth rate to see how primary productivity influences population dynamics.
View Sample Screen
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Carrying Capacity | Population growth | Predator-prey Dynamics
Courses: Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Population Biology
Reviews:
"We plan to continue to use EcoBeaker software in our Biology 101 labs next year. Student and TA feedback was very positive on both these labs [Isle Royale and Nutrient Pollution]."
Bruce Fall, University of Minnesota, 1,000 Student Introductory Biology Course
"Our experience with [the Isle Royale and Darwinian Snails labs] last Spring in our majors introductory course was excellent."
Dr. Lawrence Blumer, Morehouse College
"Our intro ecology course did the new Isle Royale lab this week and all of the instructors agreed that the new version is GREAT - so thanks for the great educational tool!!!! We all love how you worked global climate change into the new version and we also love the t-test at the end."
Billy Flint, James Madison University
Lab (Tutorial): Understanding Population Growth Models (BETA)
Students experiment with simulations of engaging creatures whose populations are undergoing exponential and logistic growth. Through guided exploration, students discover what is meant by N, r, K, and dN/dt in population growth models, and apply the models to make predictions. This module was developed as a pre-lab for Isle Royale or a supplement for courses that cover intro-level population biology.
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Carrying Capacity | Exponential Growth | Logistic Growth | population growth models | Populations
Courses: Applied Ecology | Community Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Majors | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Chapter: Biogeography

Covers large-scale and global patterns of biodiversity, and how these are related to landscapes. Includes coverage of air and water circulation, biomes, measures of diversity, species-area curves and island biogeography, paleoecology and geologic-time impacts on diversity. Topics are discussed in the context of how they inform conservation biology.


Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Biomes | Dispersal | Historical Biogeography | Island Biogeography | species diversity measures | species-area curves
Courses: Ecology
Lab (Workbook): Patchy Prairies (formerly Butterflies)
Using a simulation of a population of Fender's blue butterfly, an endangered species that is endemic to western Oregon (USA) prairies, students are challenged to propose and justify (based on their own data) a habitat restoration scheme that will maximize survivorship of butterflies, given pre-existing patches of prairie. Students first learn about edge effects and how landscape features such as corridors and stepping stones might affect population survival. They then explore how using models (e.g., conducting sensitivity analyses) can help guide research. Improvements to this lab were suggested by users of previous versions, which have been very popular both with instructors and students.
View sample screen
Level: Intro or Advanced
Key Concepts: Habitat Restoration | Metapopulations | Patchiness | Reserve design
Courses: Applied Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Population Biology
Reviews:
"It was easy to modify the final assignment to make it either more or less intensive as desired."
Cindy Bennington, Stetson University
"The students seemed to appreciate the realism of the simulation. It substituted well for a live lab without the students necessarily missing not going on into the field."
Bryan Dewsbury, Florida International University
"The class discussion [about Patchy Prairies] this morning was successful. Students ... thought it was easy to learn, and took away the major points I hoped they would."
Laura Jackson, University of Northern Iowa
Chapter: Decomposition

Decomposition uses data from the LTER network, as well as from human forensics, to explore how life after death impacts ecological systems. Includes sections on the decomposer community, litter quality, environmental effects on decomposition rates, and interactions between decomposition and climate.

Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Decomposition | Decomposer Classification | Decomposition Rate | Decomposition Triangle | Litter Quality
Courses: Ecology
Lab (Workbook): Liebig's Barrel and Limiting Nutrients
In this lab, students grow three different algal species in isolation in media containing nitrogen, phosphorous, and silica. They must first figure out which nutrient is limiting for each algal species, and what happens when the concentration of that limiting nutrient is changed. Then based on individual growth trajectories, students predict what will happen when different combinations species are grown together. Finally, student can manipulate death rates along with nutrients to explore R* competition and the paradox of the plankton.
View sample screen
Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Competition | Limiting Nutrients | Nutrient Ratios
Courses: Aquatic Ecology | Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science
Lab (Workbook): Keystone Predator Demo video available
This laboratory recreates the famous experiments of Paine and colleagues in the Pacific Northwest with the sea star Pisaster (and 8 other marine intertidal species). Students do transplant experiments to figure out competitive relationships and sample gut contents to construct a food web. Next they use their data to predict what will happen when each predator is removed from the system. Finally, they do the removal experiments and compare their results with their predictions. This is a great introductory lab in that it explores basic ecological concepts and although it is not difficult, it asks students to think critically, synthesizing experimental data to make predictions. It also provides a nice foundation for discussions of the important roles that different species can play in a community.
View sample screen
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Competition | Ecological Communities | Food Webs | Keystone Species
Courses: Community Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Marine Biology
Reviews:
"I had great success using your EcoBeaker™ labs, Keystone Predator and Sickle-Cell Alleles, in my BIO102 General Biology II class (4 lab sections, 96 students) this spring semester. "
Dr. Daniel Vogt, Plattsburgh State University, General Biology
"They absolutely loved [Keystone Predator]. … [it] allowed them to quickly appreciate how the biology of the organisms played a role, that the species differed in colonizing abilities, and the concept of a species with an effect disproportionate to its abundance. I was amazed how quickly and effortlessly the simulation taught them a dynamic system. We all agreed that the graphics really work. One of the best features is the integrated abundance values so that you can freeze the action at any point and track individual species as opposed to general trends. "
Paula Philbrick, University of Connecticut
Chapter: Ecosystem Ecology
Our growing ecological footprint and reliance on ecosystem services provide context to learn about the flow of energy through ecosystems, beginning with primary production and respiration and then exploring secondary production, including consumer and detrital food chains, transfer efficiencies, and energy flow diagrams, with applications to biofuels production and to sustainability.
Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Ecological Footprint | Ecosystem | Energy | Energy Flow | Fish Farming | GPP | Net Primary Production | NPP | primary production | respiration | secondary production | trophic pyramid
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science
Lab (Tutorial): How Diseases Spread - Epidemiology Explored
This tutorial introduces the basic ecology of disease and explores how diseases spread through and impact host populations. Students learn to use common epidemiology models, such as the susceptible-infected-recovered model (SIR), and explore density-dependent and density-independent transmission modes with interactive simulations.
Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Epidemic Threshold | Epidemiology | Human Disease | R0 | SIR models
Courses: Ecology | Human Biology | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Lab (Workbook): Top-Down Control (formerly Trophic Cascades)
Recreates the classic experiment of adding fish to a fish-free lake and observing the effects across different trophic levels. In this very open-ended lab, students are asked to observe what happens when fish are added. Then they are taught to use a set of realistic experimental tools such as species additions and subtractions, controlled tank experiments, behavioral observations to find feeding preferences, and more. With these, they must generate and test hypotheses to explain the trophic cascades and competitive dynamics they observe in the lake.
View sample screen
Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Experimental Design | Food Chains | Trophic cascades | Trophic levels
Courses: Aquatic Ecology | Community Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology
Lab (Workbook): The Barnacle Zone (formerly Barnacles and Tides)
This is a recreation of the classic experiments of Connell on why the barnacles Chthamalus and Balanus have distinct distributions in the rocky intertidal zone of Scotland. Students first observe the distributions, then try to tease apart the causes through a series of removal and transplant experiments. In the more advanced section of the lab, students can add a predatory snail, creating a new distribution. This is a popular lab, especially for asking students to design and carry out experiments.
View sample screen
Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Abiotic and Biotic Factors | Competition | Niches
Courses: Aquatic Ecology | Community Ecology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Marine Biology
Lab (Workbook): Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis
Using a model of succession from grasses to trees, students start out by observing a successional sequence without disturbance. Then they get to start setting fires. By systematically varying the size and frequency of fires, they recreate the standard textbook graph of the intermediate disturbance hypothesis showing that species diversity is highest at intermediate levels of disturbance. In an open-ended advanced section of the lab, students can alter the susceptibility of different species to burning and their succession rate to see how these factors influence diversity. This lab is often cited as a favorite by both instructors and students for its content, and also for the graphics that display red fire rushing through the forest. Although the ideas are typically introduced in upper-level ecology courses, the lab is straightforward and emphasizes data collection and graphing, making it applicable for courses for students without a scientific background.
View sample screen
Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Disturbance | Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis | Scientific modeling | Succession
Courses: Community Ecology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Lab (Workbook): Nutrient Pollution (formerly Sewage) Demo video available
What will happen if your city starts dumping lots of extra sewage into your local lake? This laboratory provides students with tools to explore nutrient enrichment, eutrophication, and bioaccumulation of toxins. Using a simulated lake containing phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, they try varying phosphorus and nitrogen inputs, and record and graph the resulting algal and oxygen levels in the lake. They also sample species at each trophic level to determine what would happen if the sewage were to contain a biomagnifying toxin such as mercury. At the end of the lab they write a "letter-to-the-editor" about their findings and provide recommendations for the city regarding the consequences of sewage in the lake. This lab is used widely in non-majors and introductory biology classes as well as intro environmental science classes.
View sample screen
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Aquatic Communities | Bioaccumulation of Toxins | Eutrophication | Limiting Nutrients | Phosphorus
Courses: Applied Ecology | Aquatic Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Reviews:
"We plan to continue to use EcoBeaker software in our Biology 101 labs next year. Student and TA feedback was very positive on both these labs [Isle Royale and Nutrient Pollution]."
Bruce Fall, University of Minnesota, 1,000 Student Introductory Biology Course
Lab (Workbook): Niche Wars (formerly Niches and Competition)
This fun and engaging laboratory, affectionately referred to as "the bunny lab", explores ecological niches and the competitive exclusion principle. Can four identical species of rabbits coexist in a yard with a limited amount of the only source of food (lettuce)? What would happen if a rabbit with a broader diet (e.g., lettuce and carrots) were to invade the yard? How could that rabbit's niche be modified to allow coexistence? Students address these questions by manipulating procedures and parameters in the model. The first part of the lab takes students step-by-step through manipulations and is great for introductory-level courses and as a general introduction to EcoBeaker models. The last (optional) part of the lab challenges students to figure out ways to modify the model to achieve coexistence with only one type of food being added to the yard. This part is open-ended and can be integrated with more advanced topics such as Lotka-Volterra models.
View sample screen
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Competitive Exclusion | Niche | Scientific Modling
Courses: Community Ecology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors

The feedback from students [on SimBio labs] is universally positive and all the faculty using the software have nothing but good things to say (even the "veterans" who had to forego the exercise they had been doing for decades!!!).

Biology Department Chair, Grossmont College