Through a variety of classroom, field and lab courses, we offer all undergraduates an opportunity to appreciate the diversity of life on earth and to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes that generate this diversity. All faculty are committed to a range of instruction from introductory material to advanced independent research opportunities.
What is Ecology and Evolutionary Biology?
The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) is one of six basic science departments in Biology and Medicine at Brown. The other five are: Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry (MCB), Molecular Microbiology and Immunology (MMI), Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology (MPPB), Neuroscience (NS), and Pathology amd Laboratory Medicine (PATH). All departments operate collaboratively within a Program in Biology. Rather than offering specialty degrees within each department, the Program in Biology offers A. B. and Sc. B. degrees in Biology, in addition to several additional concentrations that span other disciplines, such as Health and Human Biology, Applied Math-Biology. The Program in Biology webpage has full details on choosing a concentration. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology spans the gamut of biological organization from molecules and cells to communities and ecosystems. Thus we provide a broad and holistic perspective of the biological sciences. Our faculty and students study molecular evolution, plant and animal populations, community and ecosystem ecology, animal behavior, functional morphology, paleoecology, physiology, phylogenetics, and genetics. However, our interests all converge around a common thread: the evolutionary paradigm. One of the preeminent scientists of the twentieth century, Theodosius Dobzhansky, noted that, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." We firmly believe that it is imperative for students with interests in ecology and evolutionary biology to obtain a broad view of biology, in order to place our own field in an appropriate context.
What relevance is Ecology & Evolutionary Biology to:
...the Biology curriculum?
First and foremost we see ourselves as contributing to the curriculum in biology as a whole. Whether our courses are part of broadening someone's training in biology or a focus of their concentration, we offer perspectives that help a biology concentrator integrate and expand their concentration. This is a relatively easy task since we ourselves are formally integrated into the broader curriculum. We offer classes spanning the three areas of emphasis for Biology concentrators: cell and molecular biology (courses in genetics and genomics), structure and function (courses in comparative anatomy and biomechanics), and organismal biology (courses in Diversity of Life, Ecology, Evolution, Plant biology, Invertebrates, etc.). In addition to undergraduate teaching, our faculty are involved in medical education as well as graduate education and research. Our research covers both basic and applied problems. The very nature of evolutionary biology makes ours an integrative and holistic curriculum.
The most common concentrations for undergraduate students interested in ecology and evolution are AB Biology, ScB Biology, and Health and Human Biology, with the Applied Math-Biology and Computational Biology concentrations also represented. These concentrations are coordinated by the office Biology Undergraduate Education in the Division of Biology and Medicine. Since ecology and evolutionary biology are subjects that depend on a wide range of expertise from other areas of biology, we feel it is important that students avail themselves of the breadth of courses offered by the Program in Biology. In the Brown tradition, we encourage students to generate individualized programs that uniquely fit their interests and needs. Faculty advisors can help students select courses both within and outside of the biological sciences that are appropriate for a particular area of interest. As in all fields of biology, parts of our subject are becoming progressively more quantitative. Additional mathematics beyond the required year of calculus, computer science, geology, or chemistry are encouraged. The particular choice of courses depends on the area of specialty. If your interest is, say, population dynamics (the area concerned with population growth patterns of humans and other organisms) you would be well advised to bolster your mathematical skills. If, on the other hand, you are determined to become a limnologist (someone who studies fresh-water systems), you should expect to pick up extra analytical chemistry.
...the University curriculum?
We are enthusiastic about sharing our expertise with students and offer a number of courses of interest to non-science and non-biology concentrators. “Diversity of Life”, taught each fall semester by Professor Jim Kellner, introduces central concepts in ecology and evolutionary biology and is popular with both non-science students and those planning to focus in EEB. Ecology forms a critical part of the expertise required to understand and address the current crisis of rapid environmental change. To that end, many of our courses provide important insight into environmental concerns and complement environmental studies courses that focus on environmental policy issues. EEB Faculty, along with those in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) and the Department of Earth, Environment and Planetary Sciences (DEEPS), are the major contributors to instruction in environmental science and the Environmental Science concentration at Brown. In addition, EEB faculty offer courses in interdisciplinary programs that span biology and other units on campus, such as Computational Biology and Biomedical Engineering.