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Population Biology Graduate Group

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Ladona Julia Dragonfly. Photo courtesy of Dr. Shannon McCauley (CPB Postdoctoral Research Fellow).

The Core: PBG 200


PBG 200 is an intensive year-long series of courses, taken by all first-year students. Each module of the core consists of formal lecture and discussion sessions with two or three instructors each quarter. These courses provide a sophisticated introduction to current knowledge in population genetics, population dynamics, species interactions, community ecology, quantitative genetics, speciation, and systematics. The core involves extensive interaction between faculty and the first-year students.

First-year students will devote their first year of study to the three core modules of PBG 200:

Fall PBG 200A: Principles of single-species ecology and evolution. Topics include ecology of individuals, population growth models, structured populations, life history strategies, stochastic populations, basic population genetics theory, deleterious alleles in natural populations, and molecular population genetics.

Winter PBG 200B: Principles of multi-species communities. Topics include competition, mutualism, metapopulations, food webs and trophic cascades, interactions between simple ecologic communities, island biogeography, succession, and large-scale patterns.

Spring PBG 200C: Principles of microevolution and macroevolution. Topics include evolutionary quantitative genetics, analysis of hybrid zones, speciation, the fossil record, biogeography, and phylogeny reconstruction.

The Module Approach

The core course includes highly interactive lectures and discussions in 3 - 5 week modules presented by individual faculty. The module approach allows us to use faculty whose research programs precisely match the area that they are teaching. By using from seven to eight instructors per year, the students receive a diversity of approaches and viewpoints. The content is based on both current and classical literature. At the end of the year, Spring quarter, students take a written exam to test mastery of the material presented in the core and to assess the student's suitability to continue in the program.


The Pop Bio core has a reputation as being one of the nation's best interdisciplinary courses in population biology. As such, completing the core brings students up to a level of understanding of evolution and ecology that allows them to critically read and evaluate the current literature and instill in them the knowledge and confidence needed to become independent thinkers and researchers.

What do our students think about the core?

At the end of each year, Pop Bio students consistently mention the core course as the most challenging and worthwhile course they have taken.

"In retrospect, what I value most about taking the Core is the shear breadth of topics that it covered. I feel like I can go to any Ecology and Evolution seminar or talk and understand the basic points even if it's on a very different topic than my own dissertation research. I attribute this to the diversity of topics covered in depth in the Core. I ended up diving into the literature (both assigned readings and tangential readings) more than I've ever been motivated to do on my own before or since."

"My current position involves serious aspects of evolutionary theory, and my own research was purely ecology. Without the information from the "quantitative and population genetics" segments, I would have been incapable of working in my current position."

"The exposure to subjects outside of my immediate research interests. I would never have picked up quantitative genetics on my own. I have since found the rudiments of it extremely valuable. Pop Bio students are the most well-rounded, well read students I have come across."

Special Note Regarding PBG 200:

Non-Pop Bio students interested in taking the Core are required to petition for entry in late Spring or early Summer and no later than August 15th. For information on how to petition for entry into our Core (PBG 200 A, B and C), please contact Sherri Mann, Graduate Coordinator. Please Note: The Core is a three-part course that must be taken in its entirety; therefore, students interested in taking a section will be required to take the entire core series (A, B and C). No exceptions.






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