ECOLOGY: Animal & Plant Ecology, Sociobiology, other Aspects of Organismic Biology

Further topics include aspects of Sociobiolgy, constraints for plant growth and development (biogeography, biodiversity), the interactions of plants and animals with abiotic and biotic environmental factors, the interaction of individuals, social groups and large populations in complex and variable ecosystems.

Programme Profile: Ecology

The programme focuses on animal and plant ecology and also includes aspects of sociobiology and other topics of organismic biology. Further topics include constraints for plant growth and development (biogeography, biodiversity), the interactions of plants and animals with abiotic and biotic environmental factors (e.g. plant-insect, plant-fungus interactions) including the evolutionary adaptations at the physiological and organismic level, aspects of neurogenetics and behaviour as well as the interaction of individuals, social groups and large populations in complex and variable ecosystems.  Using tropical biology with its specialties, unique and general principles in ecology are communicated. Both fundamentals and novel approaches based on molecular biology tools are discussed with respect to organismic biology. The two selected topics are composed of two theory modules as well as a practical course unit each. Further research training is provided in a selected field of interest, and the students are actively involved in ongoing research projects and learn to independently plan and perform both theoretical and experimental work and finally, to summarize and discuss the results obtained in the thesis.  

Objectives and Learning Outcomes

On the background of a bachelor degree in Biology/Life Sciences, the students learn various aspects, principles and experimental approaches in animal and plant ecology with a special focus on tropical ecosystems. With several bioinformatics tools, they become familiar how to use computer based approaches in order to address and resolve problems in these bioscientific fields. The students are enabled to address scientific questions with regard to organismic interactions, ecosystems, biodiversity, environmental protection. They know to approach scientific problems both theoretically and experimentally, and - based on the results obtained - to further develop scientific models and hypotheses.  

Modules - Theory

Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology

C: The course provides insights into basic principles in ecology with particular focus on the biology of tropical habitats including tropical biocenosis.  Special attention is given to the global importance of tropical systems (“ecosystem  goods” and “ecosystem  services”)  as well as to biological specialties and aspects of particular adaption in  these highly diverse biomes. 

LO: The students become qualified to recognize the exceptional functional position of tropical habitats within the biosphere and to also explain their importance within our ecosystem.  They are able to evaluate the consequences of manipulating those tropical systems and can judge relevant issues on environmental protection. The students become familiar with a variety of aspects on the biological specialties and structural characteristics of tropical systems.

In the seminar the students learn to perform problem based scientific literature research, to present recent publications and to critically discuss these new findings.  

Plant Ecology

C: The lecture will deal with the ecological and environmental constraints under which plants grow and develop (biogeography, biodiversity) and with the interactions of plants with abiotic and biotic environmental factors (e.g. plant-insect, plant-fungus interactions). Especially, the evolutionary adaptations on the physiological and organismic level will be emphasized (stress and defense reactions, carnivory, plant protection). Corresponding experimental approaches are illustrated. The seminar deepens the topics covered by the lecture based on selected examples from current research and is complemented by topic-related guided tours in the Botanical Garden of the University of Würzburg.

Recommended Literature:
(a) Riederer M, Müller C (Eds.) (2006) Biology of the Plant Cuticle (Annual Plant Rev. 23). Oxford. Blackwell Publ.;  (b) Nobel P (2009) Physicochemical and Environmental Plant Physiology. 4th Ed. Oxford. Acad. Press;  (c) Schulze, E-D., Beck, E., Müller-Hohenstein, K. (2010) Plant Ecology. Springer-Verlag;   (d) Larcher, W. (2014) Physiological Plant Ecology, Springer-Verlag

LO: Participants are qualified to identify and interpret ecological interrelations and to discuss them within the scope of the current state of knowledge.

Molecular Biology (Lecture Series)

C: Molecular Biology of Procaryotic and Eucaryotic Cells. The lecture series introduces into the fields of cell biology, developmental biology, microbiology, biophysics, bioinformatics. Based on current concepts in molecular biology, the lectures elucidate these with respect to the particular disciplines. 

Recommended literature: Alberts B, Bray D. et al. "Essential Cell Biology"; Garland Science, NY USA 

In the course sessions on “Cell Biology“ (comprising 25% of the total) focuses on  the eucaryotic cell and illustrates both the fundamental principles of molecular cell biology and the huge structural and functional diversity of molecules, organelles and cells.

The lectures on bioinformatics (25% of total) comprise many examples for application in order to demonstrate how to address problems in molecular biology with tools of bioinformatics. The lectures are in line with the textbook „Essential Cell Biology“, and include many examples covering the topics of all course sessions. Bioinformatics is presented as a computer based molecular biology tool allowing time saving experimental planning.   

The third part of the lecture series is dealing with fundamental aspects of prokaryotes and microbiology in general. Special topics are the organization of the bacterial genome, the machinery and regulation of transcription and translation, the transport of cellular components, cell division and   cellular differentiation processes, bacterial mobility and chemotaxis, signal transduction and bacterial communication.       

Recommended literature:

(a) Allgemeine Mikrobiologie (Fuchs)  (b) Madigan MT, Martinko JM, Stahl DA Clark DP Brock Biology of Microorganisms. Pearson educ., USA

LO: The students become familiar with theoretical aspects and principles in cell biology, developmental biology, microbiology, biophysics, bioinformatics. With several bioinformatics tools, they become familiar how to use computer based approaches to address and resolve problems in these bioscientific fields. 


Neurobiology, Behavioural Physiology and Animal Ecology (Lecture series)

C: "Timing matters":  Temporal organization in the animal kingdom

Timing plays an important role in all living systems. Animals make use of endogenous clocks to predict and adapt to daily or seasonal changes in environmental parameters. To be at the right time at the right place is of great fitness relevance if -for example- a mating partner or enough food has to be found. Many mutualistic, antagonistic or social interactions can only take place if animals are at the same time at the same place and in the appropriate developmental stage.

The lecture series give an introduction into the mechanisms underlying the temporal organization in the animal kingdom. Adopting an integrative approach, the lecture goes from timing mechanisms on the neuronal level to individual behaviour and then to interactions in social groups, populations or partners in complex and variable ecosystems.

LO: The students get an overview in organismic biology including neurobiology, behavioral biology and ecology. They experience the complex interactions of living organisms including the importance of time and place to result in successful reproduction or synergy.

Modules – Practical Courses

Physiological Plant Ecology F1

C: Under the guidance of an experienced scientist, the student work on a current research topic from the field of ecology/ecophysiology. Special topics are the physiological bases of the interactions between plants and abiotic and biotic environmental factors (e.g. water relations, stress, biogeography). Working concepts and complex experiments are designed, and the results will be documented and presented as presentations, publications or protocols. The participants are involved in ongoing projects and deepen their knowledge on applying special methods, especially in ecophysiology, but also in chemical analysis.

LO: The participants gain qualifications in performing scientific work in the field of physiological plant ecology and are able to apply adequate methods. They are also able to deal with and to document questions from the field of ecology/ecophysiology according to the rules of Good Scientific Practice.

 

Physiological Plant Ecology F2

C: Students work on projects taken from ongoing research in the supervisors’ labs either from the field of ecology or of the ecophysiology of plants (e.g. plant-insect-, plant-fungus interactions; biogeography; water relations). They do this work to a large extent on their own responsibility by performing advanced experiments, their documentation and evaluation. Based on the results obtained, the ecophysiological and analytical methods applied (e.g. measurement of transpiration, fluorescence microscopy, chlorophyll-fluorometry) are critically assessed, and, where necessary, modified. The progress of the experiments and their contribution to more general projects are documented and presented as presentations, publications or protocols.

LO: The participants are qualified to independently perform scientific work in the field of physiological plant ecology and are able to assess the work in the context of current knowledge. They are able to self-dependently deal with, document and interpret questions from the field of ecology/ecophysiology according to the rules of Good Scientific Practice.

 

Molecular and Chemical Plant Ecology F1

C: Under the guidance of an experienced scientist, the students work on individual current research topics in the field of ecology/ecophysiology. Special topics are the molecular and chemical bases of the interactions between plants and abiotic and biotic environmental factors (e.g. cuticular barrier properties, plant-insect, and plant-fungus interactions). Working concepts and complex experiments are designed, and the results are documented and presented as presentations, publications or protocols. The participants are involved in ongoing projects and deepen their knowledge on applying special methods, especially in ecophysiology, but also in chemical analysis.

LO: The students gain qualifications in performing scientific work in the field of molecular and chemical plant ecology and are able to apply adequate methods. They are also able to deal with and to document questions from the field of molecular biology/chemical ecology according to the rules of Good Scientific Practice.

 

Molecular and Chemical Plant Ecology F2

C: Students work on projects taken from ongoing research in the supervisors’ labs either from the field of molecular and chemical plant ecology (e.g. cuticular barrier properties, plant-insect, and plant-fungus interactions). They do this work to a large extent on their own responsibility by performing advanced experiments, their documentation and evaluation. Based on the results obtained, the analytical, molecular biological and/or microbiological methods applied (e.g. PCR, cloning strategies, chromatography, mass spectrometry) are critically assessed, and, where necessary, modified. The progress of the experiments and their contribution to more general projects are documented and presented as presentations, publications or protocols.


LO: The participants are qualified to independently perform scientific work in the field of molecular and chemical plant ecology and are able to assess the work in the context of current knowledge. They are able to self-dependently deal with, document and interpret questions from the field of molecular/chemical plant ecology according to the rules of Good Scientific Practice.

 

Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology F1

C: This module consists of several practical courses and seminar series throughout the semester. The practical courses can be chosen from the following electives:

 

  • Wild- and honeybee Ecology (throughout the semester); fundamentals and technics of beekeeping, resource utilization, behavior experiments, pollinator diversity, and plant-pollinator-interactions.
  • Ecology and taxonomy of insects (block, 2 weeks), observation and recording in the habitat, identification and characteristics of different arthropod groups, field experiments.
  • Ecological modelling (block, 2 weeks); current methods of ecological processes modelling, simulation models, individual modelling project on current issue of Ecology
  • Agroecology (block, 1 week); insect communities in agroecosystems, biological pest control in landscape content, evaluation of agri-enviroment schemes.
  • Forest Ecology (block, 1 week); Arthropod communities in forest ecosystems, methods of defecting, influence of management on diversity patterns and functional groups.
  • Tropical Ecology (block); in a tropical ecosystem in East Africa, small projects are carried out with ecological or nature conservation related issues.
  • In the seminar, recent scientific publications on the topics of the exercised modules will be presented and discussed.

 

LO: The students expand their knowledge on ecological theories and current research issues in Animal Ecology. They are qualified to design, perform, statistically analyze, and interpret scientific research. They are familiar with animal ecological methods and possible sources of error in data interpretation. They deepen their knowledge of Biology and Ecology of important functional taxa of arthropods. The acquired knowledge qualifies the students to perform scientific activities in the content of F2 internship or a master thesis.

 

Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology F2

C. In F2 internship, student work on one scientific question as independent as possible. It includes the development of hypothesis, preparation of a work plan, and implementation of data collection, experiment in the field, green house or laboratory, and statistical analysis of the data. The results are presented in a protocol, which resembles the form and content of a short scientific paper with introduction, material and method, results and discussions. The results are presented in the final seminar.

 

In the various working groups of the department of animal Ecology and tropical Biology, there are many possibilities to conduct an F2 internship in Germany, Europe or in the tropics. They can be carried out in an ongoing research project of the institute or in cooperation with other institutions. More detailed informations are posted on the board of the department or directly obtained in the working group.

LO: The students acquire a comprehensive experimental and methodological knowledge in scientific handling of current animal Ecology and tropical Biology research questions. They are qualified to conduct scientific work, perform statistical analysis and interpretation. The acquired knowledge qualifies students for independent scientific activities as part of the master thesis.

Additional Courses (5 ECTS unless indicated)

Biochemistry, Physiology and Genetics of Mammalian Cell Culture

C: Introduction to cell culture, cell culture lab equipment, cellular biochemistry and cell structures, cell proliferation, generation of in vitro cell models and their applications , cell culture formats, basic cell analytical technologies.

LO: Students are able to understand the biochemistry, physiology and genetics of mammalian cell culture, and possess the asset to use these techniques.


Molecular Techniques (3)

C: Introduction to new and cutting edge molecular techniques. As well as methods for scientific investigation.

LO: Students are able to recognize cutting edge methods, and techniques to improve experimental strategies and experimental set ups to answer scientific questions.


Molecular Tumour Biology

C: The lecture „Molecular Tumorbiology“discusses molecular characteristics of tumors and relevant biological processes (such as signal transduction, cell growth, cell proliferation, metabolism), tumor specific modifications and current molecular biological methods in tumor research.

LO: Understanding of the current topics and challenges in tumor research and understanding about the methods which could be used to deal with such challenges.


Clinical Tumor Biology


C: In the lecture series „Clinical Tumorbiology“current clinical aspects will be discussed. Several tumortypes will be considered (such as tumors of the skin, lung, intestine, breast, blood). Diagnostics & pathologiy, different treatments and therapies and clinical trials will be further topics.

LO: Knowledge about the similarities and differences of various tumor types. Understanding of requirements, possibilities and limitations in clinical medicine.


Animal Communication

C: The lectures deal with physiological and neurobiological principles of the different communication channels used by animals, but also highlight adaptive values and evolutionary aspects of animal signaling. In a follow-up seminar session students will deepen their knowledge by presenting and discussing actual papers related to the topic of the lecture.

LO: The students experience the benefit of an integrative approach when confronted with complex biological issues. They learn to connect the findings of different research areas like physiology, neurobiology, behavior and ecological conditions in order to gain a more complete picture of a topic. Participants learn to present and discuss actual papers within a broader scientific framework.


Experimental Sociobiology

C: The lectures highlight the diversity and the evolution of social behavior, but also focus on the physiological, neurobiological and behavioural mechanisms underlying the organization of social groups. In a follow-up seminar session students will deepen their knowledge by presenting and discussing actual papers related to the topic of the lecture.

LO: The students experience the benefit of an integrative approach when confronted with complex biological issues. They learn to connect the findings of different research areas like physiology, neurobiology, behavior and ecological conditions in order to gain a more complete picture of a topic. Participants learn to present and discuss actual papers within a broader scientific framework.


Immunology 1 B

C: Basic concepts of modern cellular and molecular Immunology.

LO: Participants learn to read, critically discuss and present current concepts in immunology at (advanced) text book level. Reception of talks on current topics in immunology which are given by varying researchers covering a broad range of immunological topics.  

     
Immunology 2 B

C: Current topics in molecular and cellular immunology with emphasis on autoimmunity. allergy, immunomodulation, cancer and transplantation immunology, immunity of infection and evolution of the immune system.

LO: Capability to read, critically discuss and present current concepts in immunology on the basis of original literature and primary data.


Virology 1 B

C: This course offers an introduction to virology and current research in the field of virology.

LO: Students have gained the ability to understand and discuss in depth current issues in virology.


Virology 2 B

C: This course offers an introduction to virology and current research in the field of virology.

LO: Students will have gained the ability to understand and discuss in depth current issues in virology.


Nucleus Workshop

C: A combination of lecture and laboratory course
Topics include the nuclear envelope, nuclear pores, nuclear-cytoplasmic transport, nuclear lamina, chromatin, chromosomes and disease, structure and function of the nucleolus, communication between the cytoskeleton and the nucleus
Experiments include
•    Electron microscopy of the nuclear envelope, pores and lamina;
•    Growth of the nuclear envelope: Experiments using cultured cells and Drosophila
•    Preparation of a Xenopus-egg extract and in vitro-assembly of artificial nuclei
•    In-vitro assemly of lamina-filaments
•    Isolation of nuclear envelope  from cultured cells; Protein analyses using Western blotting.
•    Visualization of nucleosomal chromatin in EM (Miller-Speading).
•    Extraction of histones und analyses via one- and two-dimensional gelelectrophoresis.
•    Visualization of transcriptional active genes.
•    Structure and function of the nucleolus; influence of cellular toxins.
•    Isolation of ribosomes and ribosomal subunits using a sugar gradient centrifugation and protein analyses
•    Nucleolar behavior during mitosis (Immunofluorescence microscopy using a nucleolus specific antibody).
•    The nucleolar organizer region (NOR), Silver staining and immunolocalization
•    Localization of transcription sites in the cell nucleus (BrU incorporation).
•    Protein-Protein interaction in the cell nucleus (in situ proximity ligation assay).
•    Chromatin immunoprecipitation (Chip)

LO: The students understand structural and functional features of the cell nucleus. They know abput key cell biological methods and are able to perform experiments to anwer scientific questions using these trained methods.

Additional Courses & Final Thesis

Ecology of Honey Bees and Wild Bees

C: Introduction to the life of honey bees and wild bees; principles and techniques of beekeeping (colony management, breeding, diseases); resource use of honey bees and wild bees (bee dances, flower visiting, pollen analysis, foraging behavior, nesting aid); Taxonomy of wild bees, opponent of bees, wild bees in different habitats (excursion), honey bee excursion, e.g. visiting of the bee center in Veitshöchheim.

LO: The students expand their knowledge on Biology and Ecology of wild- and honey bees, on interactions between bees and plants, and on aspects of nature conservation. They become qualified to handle experimental methods of Pollination Ecology, management of trial colonies, pollen analysis, and determination of wild bees.

Ecology and Taxonomy of Insects

C: Identification and classification of the characteristics of different groups of arthropods, especially insects. Knowledge of special form is provided. Observation and recording of arthropods in habitats. Experimental laboratory and field work on ecological or behavior biological characteristics of the respective groups of arthropods. In addition, also compilation of species richness and niche differentiation. The aim is to link the phylogenetic and morphological characteristics of arthropods with their ecological functions.

LO: The students gain knowledge of defining typical families and representatives of major insect orders. They are qualified to apply special identification keys, record and evaluate special behaviors. They are able to design and evaluate experimental approaches in ecological laboratory and field studies.


Modelling in Ecology

C: On the basis of exemplary tasks in Ecology, the students will learn about different simulation techniques and modelling methods. In the same time, they will also develop their own simulation program to address demographical or evolutionary questions.

LO: The students expand their knowledge in theory and practice of ecological modelling and they are qualified to develop, apply, and interpret adequate modelling techniques.


Tropical Ecology

C: In a tropical ecosystem, small project with ecological or nature conservation related issues will be performed. Here the students should learn about the steps of experiment design, implementation, data analysis, up to data presentation. In the evening seminar, recent publications are presented in the field of tropical Ecology and will be discussed.

LO: The students learn about various tropical Ecosystems and acquire further knowledge of ecological and nature conservation related research in the tropics. They learn field ecological methods for quantitative detection of insects and their biotic interactions, as well as acquire statistical knowledge in the field of data analysis.

Linux and Perl

C: Introduction into the operation system Linux, writing computer programs using the programming language Perl to answer bioinformatical questions.

LO: Students are able to handle the Linux as user and they are able to write simple Perl scripts to answer bioinformatical questions.

Presentation of Scientific Data

C: The students write a scientific mini review including correct citation and learn various options to present scientific data including manuscript writing followed by an oral presentation (15 min).The manuscript is based on original papers as well as on reviews and follows the instructions of a scientific journal of choice, which may be found at the home page under e.g. “Instructions to Authors”. Both length of chapters and structure of the article should be based on the style of the selected journal.
Attendance at 20 or more scientific talks (e.g. defense of doctoral thesis, presentation of research projects, retreats ) including presentation by guest speakers.

LO: The students are familiar with the deatails of publishing scientific data in written and oral form. They have become familiar with the methodology of scientific publishing in oral or written fashion. Furthermore, they have trained English skills in both reading, talking and writing.


Quality Assurance, Good Practice, Biosafety and Biosecurity

C: Good Practice in the Biosciences, quality assurance approaches and quality culture. Structure, idea and basic principles of quality management approaches, DIN EN ISO 9001, regulatory documents and framework in the biosciences  including biotechnology, biosafety, biosecurity, risk assessment.

LO: The students are familiar with basics of “Good Practices” in Research and Development, and have understood the basic principles of quality management circles. They have a distinct sensibility in biosafety and biosecurity issues and know the proper handling of biological agents and organisms. In addition, they have developed a sense to the complex interdependences in nature and can critically discuss socio-ethical issues in the bioscience area.

FINAL THESIS


Thesis (25)

C: A defined scientific question is addressed by adequate techniques. Students plan and perform experiments to solve problems or summarize and interpret existing data. The students have to develop a research plan and apply advanced and novel techniques in the context of a given research project according to good scientific practice. The results are summarized in a written thesis. The project lasts for six month.

LO: Students are qualified to scientifically work on a topic on their own. They are competent to discuss the current research in the field. They are competent to work according to good practice and to document, interpret and to discuss their results. They are competent to discuss and to defend their data in the scientific community.

Thesis Defense / Oral examination Biology (3)

C: Verification of thesis content through oral examination. Total length should not exceed 45 min. (30 min. plus 15 min. of questions pertaining to the thesis, as well as related subjects)

LO: The students are able to present the results of their thesis work to a public audience in a limited time and they are able to critically discuss questions and concerns.