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Kyla Flanagan
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary
Caribou Conservation Conundrum 

As a Government of Canada biologist, "Rachael Mercer" faces the task of advising the Environment Minister on whether a proposed wolf cull should be carried out to conserve threatened caribou populations in the Northern Alberta oilsands region. The Alberta oilsands are an internationally important economic region, but also contain critical habitat for the woodland caribou. Since caribou are endangered, the government is legally obligated to act. To help Rachel determine whether a wolf cull is wise, students examine four aspects of this problem: (1) caribou biology, (2) wolf biology, (3) the oilsands landscape, and (4) species interactions. Students use a jig-saw method to share and process knowledge gained from readings about these four topics. The implications of the management strategy are then analyzed and discussed. This case provides opportunities for students to evaluate a real-life management plan through integrating their knowledge of ecological concepts with primary research and government reports and discuss alternative ideas for management of an endangered species. The case was developed for use in a sophomore ecology course.

Ecology of Individuals: Using Game Theory to Understand Animal Behavior 

This case study is based on the game theory developed by John Maynard Smith where two behavioral strategies ("Hawks" and "Doves") compete over a contested resource. During this 50- to 75-minute case, students experience "hands-on"' the change in frequency of the behavioral strategies by playing the game Rock-Paper-Scissors and documenting the results using clicker responses. Through this simulation, students explore ideas of natural selection, evolution, evolutionarily stable states, coexistence of behavioral strategies, and frequency dependent selection. The case can be easily adapted to focus more heavily on one or more of these different aspects of evolution by natural selection.  In addition, the case provides an opportunity for students to confront misconceptions they may have about evolution and to learn about possibility of coexistence between aggressive and non-aggressive phenotypes. This case study is ideal for a large introductory ecology or evolutionary biology course where the students are familiar with basic background concepts in individual ecology, evolution, natural selection, and evolutionary fitness.

Zombie Attack!: An Introduction to Quantitative Modeling

Students assume the roles of CDC researchers who must determine how to most effectively stop an impending Zombie apocalypse. The story line leads students through the process of developing a mathematical model of a Zombie outbreak, which they then use to evaluate different "management" strategies to ensure human survival. Students are introduced to a flow diagram, learn how to derive equations from a flow diagram, and evaluate predictions of the model. Comparisons to the spread of invasive species, infectious disease outbreaks, and predator-prey relationships help the students to see how important biological processes can be modeled quantitatively. Since the focal species (zombies) is fictitious, this case is an ideal way to introduce students to the process of mathematical modeling without worrying about the system-specific details of any particular organism. Originally designed for a second year introductory ecology course, this case is also appropriate for an epidemiology course, advanced population ecology courses, applied ecology courses, and quantitative biology/mathematical biology courses.