EEB 2208E: Introduction to Conservation Biology

Spring 2024

This course will provide an introduction to the discipline of conservation biology. The first two-thirds of the course will focus on the biological aspects of the discipline. Topics covered will include patterns of biodiversity and extinction, causes of extinction and population declines, techniques used to restore populations, landscape level conservation planning, and the role of conservation in protecting ecosystem services. The final third will cover the practical aspects of implementing conservation actions and will include lectures on conservation economics and conservation law. In other words, the study of extinction and biodiversity loss – how it happens, why it happens, and what people can do to lower the risk.

The course will be taught in a “flipped” format, taking advantage of changes I made during the pandemic to make the material more accessible, but bringing back the benefits of in-person interactions. This approach will allow us to use class time for activities (some graded) designed to consolidate knowledge and build skills.  I will make most of the lecture material available in video format and will expect you to watch it prior to class (you should consider these videos to be the equivalent of required textbook readings). During class meetings we will go over the concepts that people typically find most difficult, talk about the application of the material to real-world conservation problems, answer student questions about the lecture material and homework assignments, and discuss the assigned readings and the class project.

Basic course information

Credits: 3

Instructor: Chris Elphick (he/him)

Office hours: I will typically be in the lecture hall 15 mins before class, and will be available to meet with students right after class.  If these times do not work, please email me to set up a meeting. Tell me what you want to talk about, when you are available to meet, and whether you have a preference for a virtual or in-person meeting.


Teaching assistants:

Jessica Espinosa (she/her), Office hours: Tu 11-12, PBB 404

Ketki Samel (they/them), Office hours: F 2-3, Gant W402

Lecture: Tu, Th 2-3:15

Location: BPB 131

Contacting us outside class: We will work hard to respond to emails promptly, but you can help by being aware of ways to make it easier for us to find and follow up on your messages. In all emails to us, please include “EEB 2208E” in the subject line. I check email at the start and end of each work day (8-5, M-F) and will prioritize student messages with the goal of responding within 24 hours (except on weekends). I receive a high volume of email, though, and messages that are not readily identifiable or found via a simple search are easy to miss. Emails without a clear subject line, and especially those with a blank subject line, may get treated as SPAM and be deleted without being read. If you do not get a response within 48 hours, please do not hesitate to resend the message in case it was missed.

If you are struggling with the course, please do not hesitate to reach out for help at any time. Waiting until the end of the semester to ask for help will make it hard for us to do anything to help you improve your grade.

Pre-requisites: There are no prerequisites for the course, but it is aimed at students who are at least sophomores and have taken at least some biology in high school.

Textbook: I lecture primarily from my own notes, and there is no required textbook for the course. Reading beyond the lecture material, however, will be helpful as I will expect you to know a range of examples for each phenomenon I describe. If you want to delve deeper into the topic, or find the use of a textbook to be helpful, then I’d recommend two options: Essentials of Conservation Biology (R.B. Primack, 6th Edition, Sinauer), which closely follows the sequence of my lectures and Conservation Biology for All (Sodhi and Ehrlich) that might be helpful is available as a free download here. The free textbook covers many of the topics I’ll cover in class, but is not as comprehensive as Primack’s book, and not as similar in its organization to the way that I have set up my lectures.

Web site: This site will serve as a syllabus and central resource for information about the course. We will also have a HuskyCT site where course materials will be collated by lecture, where homework can be turned in, where grades will be posted, and where you can post questions for me, the TA, or your classmates. The HuskyCT site will become available on the first day of class, but you will not see not see things on it until you need them.

Research paper readings: Throughout the class, I will provide supplemental readings from the primary research literature to augment the lecture material. These readings will be the subject of class discussions and short graded responses. Information on when these discussions will occur and what is expected of you is given below.

Optional reading that might be helpful: If you are really interested in this topic, then you will be well served if you check out recent issues of the journal Conservation Biology (note that to read articles you will need to be connected to the UConn system).

Questions: Please ask lots of them! Class is much more interesting (for me and you) when people ask questions. The best way to ask questions is during class sessions or via the discussion board on HuskyCT, so that everyone can hear the responses. If you prefer, you can send me questions over email, and I will post them anonymously, along with the answers.

Office hours: I will usually be available in the classroom 15 minutes before class, and will stay afterwards to answer any questions you have. Please feel free to introduce yourself during these periods – the class is big and it is hard for me to get to know people otherwise. I am also happy to meet at other times by appointment. If you would like to meet, then email me, telling me (a) what you want to discuss (so I can prepare) and (b) when would be good times to meet (Tues, Thurs, or Fri will usually be best). The TAs are also available to answer questions by email, during their office hours (see above), and/or by appointment (see above for details); questions about grading, however, should be directed to me.

Course objectives and expectations: My goal is to provide you with a basic understanding of the scientific field of conservation biology and the application of science to solving conservation problems. My primary goal is for you to learn and understand basic concepts and general ideas, although to get an A or a high B, you will need to know plenty of details too. I will expect you to know examples relating to each major concept, so that you can relate theory to practical, real-world situations. I will not expect you to memorize all of the minutia that I talk about; for example, I would not ask you exactly how many species have gone extinct in the last 500 years. I will expect you to have a solid understanding of the basic information that would be required for a job in this field; for example, I would expect you to know whether the number of extinctions this century is likely to be closer to 2 or 20,000.

Specific things that I hope you will learn are:

  1. to understand the basic issues that define the field of conservation biology;
  2. specific factual information about major issues in conservation biology;
  3. specific examples of all important concepts, problems, and solutions;
  4. to use general principles to think about ways to solve specific conservation problems;
  5. to extrapolate from examples I provide in class to other cases with similar characteristics (e.g., that I may ask about in exams!);
  6. to acknowledge scientific uncertainty when it exists, and to recognize when it hampers understanding and when it does not;
  7. to read scientific papers and understand the main points that they make;
  8. to interpret graphs, tables, and simple statistics presented in the scientific literature;
  9. to present scientific information to your peers in a format commonly used by scientists;
  10. to think about the work of others and provide constructive feedback.

These items relate to UConn’s Common Curriculum as follows:

Topic of inquiry Common curriculum objective Learning objectives Course assessments
TOI-4 1: Students will be able to investigate how human activities impact Earth systems 1-9 Homework, discussions, poster project, exams
TOI-4 2:  Students will be able to examine how Earth systems affect human activities and well-being. 1-9 Homework, discussions, poster project, exams
TOI-4 3: Students will be able to assess how human-environment interactions are represented culturally, creatively, or artistically, and how these representations influence attitudes and behaviors. 1-9 Homework, discussions, poster project, exams
TOI-4 4: Students will be able to evaluate how public policies, legal frameworks, and/or other social systems affect environmental and social justice. 1-10 Homework, discussions, poster project, exams
TOI-4 5:  Students will be able to articulate moral, ethical, and/or philosophical issues regarding the environment. 1-9 Homework, discussions, poster project, exams
TOI-6 1. Students will be able to explain and appropriately use basic scientific language and concepts. 1-10 Homework, discussions, poster project, exams
TOI-6 3. Students will be able to solve problems described verbally, graphically, symbolically, or numerically 1-10 Homework, discussions, poster project, exams

If you are just taking this course out of general interest, then hopefully it will provide you with a sense of how the biological sciences can be applied to protection of the natural world, and will give you a better understanding of the main issues in conservation biology. For those of you wishing to pursue a career in conservation biology, I hope that this course will give you a solid foundation on which to build with future courses (e.g., EEB 5310, EEB 5370). If this is your goal, I’d also encourage you to check out EEB’s joint BS/MS program in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology. There are also links to good sites for finding internships and jobs (short-term and permanent) in conservation biology at the bottom of this web page.

Class community and inclusive learning environment: UConn values diversity and inclusion, and so do I. I expect everyone in this class to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to support the learning of all other members of the class, regardless of ability, age, background, culture, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other seen or unseen identities. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or accurate assessment of your achievements, please let me know.

General student help

Student Health and Wellness – Mental Health: (860) 486-4705

Dean of Students Office: (860) 486-3426

Academic Achievement Center

Center for Students with Disabilities

Title IX Office

Alcohol, Other Substance Use, and Support

UConn Police Department

Academic rules and conduct

All students should be aware of the guidelines on academic integrity contained in the Student Code, which is available here, and will be expected to abide by UConn’s Academic, Scholarly, and Professional Integrity and Misconduct Policy.

Conservation biology in the news

Linking course material to things happening in the world can often make learning easier, by making the things we discuss in class more relevant. Consequently, I will set up a discussion board on HuskyCT where people can post and discuss things that they see in the news. Current news items will also be central to the course project, so I encourage you to start looking for references to conservation issues as soon as possible.

Important course documents

Grading information and class policies

Plagiarism statement

Homework overview

Discussion papers

Exam information

Poster project guidelines

Link to some poster design tips

Citation guidelines (for poster project)

Study guide

Schedule of lectures and examinations (subject to change)

The schedule below describes the order in which we will cover material. Not every topic fits nicely into the time set aside for a lecture, so be prepared for us to start some topics a lecture early, and for others to take longer than the syllabus suggests. Snow days may also disrupt things, so don’t be surprised if the topic listing changes slightly.  Should changes to the schedule be necessary I will send everyone in the class an announcement via HuskyCT.

Lecture material has been pre-recorded and will be posted in HuskyCT. For each lecture there will be multiple short videos, to break the information down into sections. Each lecture also has a set of notes summarizing the material (linked to the topic titles in the syllabus below). My expectation is that you will have watched all videos before coming to class, and my advice is that you should (a) look the notes over before watching the video, (b) make supplemental notes while watching, and (c) come to class with questions about anything you do not understand (you can also post questions in the discussion board for the class). In class, I will review the most difficult information and we will conduct exercises to help you develop the skills that will be needed to do well on the final. Some of these exercises will be graded. In exams, you will be expected to know about all the things covered in the videos, not just the summary information in the web notes. If you choose to rely only on the web notes or to skip class it will likely reduce your grade.

The symbol ** in the “Reading” column means that there is important reading from the primary literature that we will discuss in class (if there is no ** then the reading is still important, but will not be the subject of graded activities). Reading these papers is important as there will be graded, writing assignments for each one. I will also pick people in class to answer questions about them. We will post the papers on the HuskyCT site.

Weekly homework will be assigned on Thursdays, with each assignment posted on HuskyCT.  Your responses should be submitted via HuskyCT and are due by 8 pm on the Sunday after the homework was assigned (see homework column in the table below). Answers will be posted on HuskyCT.

Because conservation biology is a fast-moving field, with the latest research constantly changing, my course notes are updated regularly. Links to the documents in the syllabus below will take you to the most recent version, but do not be surprised if they are updated a day or so before the relevant lecture.

In the schedule I have included special lectures or other events (in green) that will take place this semester and that are at least loosely connected to this course. Attendance at these lectures is not required, but the presentations should be of interest to anyone interested in conservation biology.

Lecture Date Topic Background reading Homework (due 8 pm, Sundays) Supplemental information
1 18 Jan What is conservation biology? Primack Ch 1 & 6
S & E Ch 1
A summary of what the course is about: Part 1 and Part 2
2 23 Jan Interpreting statistics (when there’s an agenda) Sutherland et al. 2013 Theory of the Stork
3 25 Jan Forms of biological diversity Primack Ch 2
S & E Ch 2
Hwk #1

(due 28 Jan)

International Year of Biodiversity
Ecosystem services
25 Jan EEB seminar (optional): What is Endangered Species Recovery, and How Would You Know? (Dan Doak, U Colorado); 3:30-4:30 in BPB 131
 4 30 Jan Patterns of biodiversity Primack Ch 3
S & E Ch 2
New species discoveries
5 1 Feb Extinction rates Primack Ch 7
S & E Ch 10
Hwk #2

(due 4 Feb)

Thylacine video – all that’s left
6 6 Feb Patterns of extinction Primack Ch 8

S & E Ch 10

Extinction debt video
7 8 Feb Causes of population decline Primack Ch 8

S & E Ch 10

**Boonman et al. 2024

Hwk #3

(due 11 Feb)

The fate of passenger pigeons
IUCN Red List
8 13 Feb Habitat loss & degradation Primack Ch 9: 175-196

S & E Ch 4 and 5

  Another victim of habitat loss
9 15 Feb Over-exploitation Primack Ch 10: 215-227

S & E Ch 6

**Orr et al. 2020

Hwk #4

(due 18 Feb)

10 20 Feb Invasive species Primack Ch 10: 227-238

S & E Ch 7

Watch Cane Toads


Another invasive amphibian gets to Australia

11 22 Feb  Disease Primack Ch 10: 238-245

S & E Ch 7

**Luedtke et al. 2023

Hwk #5

(due 25 Feb)

 Chytrid video
23 Feb Poster info due via email before 4 pm today (one email from each student)
12 27 Feb Global change Primack Ch 9: 197-216

S & E Ch 8

National Academies video, part 1
USFS climate change atlases for trees and birds
Climate Change Time Machine
13 29 Feb Ecosystem services pp. 1-24 MEA Summary for decision makers 

S & E Ch 3

**Fricke et al. 2022

Hwk #6

(due 3 Mar)

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA)
5 Mar Mid-term Exam Study lectures 1-13
14 7 Mar Small population conservation Primack Ch 11

**Gardner et al. 2023

Hwk #7

(due 17 Mar)

12 Mar Spring recess (no class)
14 Mar Spring recess (no class)
15 19 Mar Population viability analysis Primack Ch 12

S & E Ch 16: 328-330

Demos of PVA simulations in class today and/or Wednesday
16 21 Mar Conservation genetics Primack Ch 13

S & E Ch 16: 330-333

**Robinson et al. 2022

Hwk #8

(due 24 Mar)

Frozen Ark Project
21 Mar Poster prospectuses due in class today (one copy from each group)
17 26 Mar Ex situ conservation, release programs Primack Ch 14   Info on UConn’s endangered and extinct in the wild plants
18 28 Mar Conservation reserves Primack Ch 15

S & E Ch 11

**Palfrey et al. 2022

Hwk #9

(due 31 Mar)

US Protected Areas

Allison and Cho 2020 (supplement for discussion)

19 2 Apr Reserve networks Primack Ch 16    Poster design tips
20 4 Apr Conservation in the matrix Primack Ch 18

S & E Ch 13

**Zemp et al. 2023

Hwk #10

(due 7 Apr)

Flooding rice
21 9 Apr Management Primack Ch 17

S & E Ch 16: 319-326

Read about re-wilding
22 11 Apr Habitat restoration Primack: Ch 19

**Wauchope et al. 2022

Hwk #11

(due 14 Apr)

16 Apr All posters due in HuskyCT by 2 pm (no class) Start studying   Rubric
18 Apr Review posters (no class) Primack: Ch 20 Hwk #12

(due 21 Apr)

21 Apr Peer review of posters due by 8 pm (each student reviews 3 assigned posters)
23 23 Apr Economics of conservation Primack: Ch 4, 5

S & E: Ch 14


Instructor evaluations today
24 25 Apr Conservation law and International legislation Primack: Ch 21, 22

S & E Ch 12
**Schmidt and Garroway 2022

Hwk #13

(due 28 Apr)

Short video on wildlife trade

Valuing ecosystems 

26 Apr Responses to peer questions about posters due by 8 pm  Study Guide
TBD Final exam: confirm time and date here Cumulative Exam will cover material from entire course

* Questions about final exam rescheduling should be directed to the Dean of Students Office (here). I am not allowed to consider rescheduling requests unless you already have approval from that office. Except in emergencies, rescheduling of other graded activities will be considered only if a written request is made at least one week in advance. Rescheduling is not guaranteed.

These lecture notes are intended for students in EEB 2208E at the University of Connecticut, and may not make sense in other contexts. If, however, you are not a UConn student and they are useful to you, please use them – but kindly let me know first if you intend to use them for anything more than your own on-line reading. If you find errors, please let me know that too.

Poster topics

The following topics have been taken: Please make note of your poster number as you will need it to submit your poster online.

  • A1 Shark conservation (Luyao, Alyson, Kat)
  • A2 Shark finning (Lizzy, Carmen, David)
  • A3 Conservation of North Atlantic Right Whale (Omoladunnandi, Sophia, Theo)
  • A4 Hawksbill sea turtle conservation (Kanika, Amanda, McKenzie)
  • A5 Yellow-naped Amazon and the pet trade (Alyssa, Kelly, Sara)
  • A6 Bee conservation (ShaoFu, Rishen, Jamie)
  • A7 Bald eagle conservation (Ian, Dallas, Monica)
  • A8 Leatherback turtles (Cameron, Josie, Nicole)
  • A9 Invasive insects & effects on pollination (Jaelyn, Advaith, Jacob)
  • A 10 Pygmy rabbit conservation (Amira, Jamaile, Maggie)
  • A11 Giant panda conservation (Freddy, Tyler, Alicia)
  • A12 Global whale conservation (Beckett, Jacob, Nicole)
  • A13 Monarch butterfly conservation (Sheyenne, Jahmal, Laura)
  • A14 Effects of dams on biodiversity (Brett, Alyssa, Antony)
  • A15 Florida panthers (Hana, Anna, Lindsey)
  • A16 Blue whale conservation (Shannel, Jacob, Mariana)
  • A17 Wolves (Julia, Erin, Emma)
  • A18 Pangolins (Jenialis Nashon, Uumayah)
  • A19 Gharial crocodiles (Larue, Nick, Danial)
  • A20 Bats and white-nose syndrome (Shaina, Eli, Joseph)
  • A21 Sea otter conservation (Grace, Stephanie, Victoria)
  • A22 Invasive emerald ash borers (Gabe, Jason, Tingyu)
  • A23 Invasive big-headed ants (Sila, Sophie, Niko)
  • A24 Rhino conservation (Caitlin, Tyler, Kaitlyn)
  • A25 Climate change and krill (Shira-kay, Carl, Sahana)
  • A26 Brown bears (Karla, Kassiera, Katharine)
  • A27 Conservation of kelp forests (MIllie, Mary, Janella)
  • A28 Snow leopards (Emma, Emily, Emma)
  • A29 Orange-billed parrots (Mohammad, Agatha, Numan)
  • A30 Swift parrots (Shane, Emily, Zayin)
  • A31 Salmon (Chuanmai, Andres, Greta)
  • A32 Conservation and environmental justice (Mihika)
  • A33 Romanian forest conservation (Macy, Ella, Ethan)
  • A34 Horned oryx (David, Liam, Stephanie)
  • A35 Ocean pollution and hermit crabs (Samuel, Nicole, Harry)
  • A36 Coral bleaching (Gary, Xiao, Jayce)
  • A37 Wetland conservation (Ahmed, Bradley, Christian)
  • A38 Hybridization and conservation (Harshita, Zeynep, Bianca)

Honors conversion projects

Occasionally honors students conduct additional projects to get honors credit for this class. Recently, those projects have involved developing web sites that provide information about conservation biology that relates to UConn or the state of Connecticut. Examples of past projects are posted here as the information may be of interest to other students:

Important policies

Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence
The University is committed to maintaining an environment free of discrimination or discriminatory harassment directed toward any person or group within its community – students, employees, or visitors. Academic and professional excellence can flourish only when each member of our community is assured an atmosphere of mutual respect. All members of the University community are responsible for the maintenance of an academic and work environment in which people are free to learn and work without fear of discrimination or discriminatory harassment. In addition, inappropriate amorous relationships can undermine the University’s mission when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their authority. To that end, and in accordance with federal and state law, the University prohibits discrimination and discriminatory harassment, as well as inappropriate amorous relationships, and such behavior will be met with appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from the University. Additionally, to protect the campus community, all non-confidential University employees (including faculty) are required to report sexual assaults, intimate partner violence, and/or stalking involving a student that they witness or are told about to the Office of Institutional Equity. The University takes all reports with the utmost seriousness. Please be aware that while the information you provide will remain private, it will not be confidential and will be shared with University officials who can help. More information is available at and

Information for Students with Disabilities
The University of Connecticut is committed to protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities and assuring that the learning environment is accessible. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability or pregnancy, please let me know immediately so that we can discuss options. Students who require accommodations should contact the Center for Students with Disabilities, Wilbur Cross Building Room 204, (860) 486-2020 or

Links to other key policy information.

Other information

For information about EEB’s Joint B.S./M.S. degree program in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, click here.

For information about the Society for Conservation Biology, click here.

For information on jobs in conservation biology, click here or here.

For information on jobs in wildlife biology, click here.

For additional job information, compiled by the EEB department click here.