Caribbean Biodiversity Spring 2014

Course syllabus

Caribbean Biodiversity BSC-4363,

Spring, 2014, Mo 1:00 – 3:50 PM. Room number: PC 310

Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega ( - Room: OE-242 - Phone: x2080)
Office hours: Wednesdays noon – 3:00 pm

Invited Speakers:
Dr. Grenville Draper, Department of Earth and the Environment, FIU
Evelyn Gaiser, Department of Biological Sciences, FIU



Activity (Power Presentations are saved online if FIU Blackboard)

January 6

- Organizational meeting
- Research on islands: classic and recent approaches 1

January 13

- The geology of the West Indies (invited speaker Dr. G. Draper)
- Research on islands: classic and recent approaches 2

January 20

- Holiday

January 27

- The geology of Florida (invited speaker Dr. G. Draper)
- Island biogeography: Species numbers and community assembly

February 3

- Exam 1

February 10

- Global significance of island biodiversity: Evolution and speciation
- Journal Club 1: Island biogeography patterns

February 17

- Arrival and change: General patterns for insular organisms
- The Caribbean environment: An introduction

February 24

- Biogeography of the Caribbean Islands
- Journal Club 2: Conservation of Antillean biodiversity

March 3

- Exam 2

March 10

- Holiday

March 17

- Plant biodiversity of the Caribbean islands
- Ecology and vegetation of the Caribbean basin

March 22

- Visit to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. 9:00 AM. This is an optional visit. We will meet in the SOUTH GATE of the Garden. This IS NOT the entrance where the visitor center is located but the entrance for staff. Further directions will be provided in class. You can bring one adult guest.

March 24

- Vertebrates of the Caribbean islands
- Journal Club 3: Human utilization of natural resources

March 31

- Exam 3

April 7

- Caribbean biodiversity: The phylogenetic perspective
- Journal Club 4: The Guppy Project

April 14

- Long term conservation in the Everglades National Park (invited speaker Evelyn Gaiser)
- Conservation biology of the Caribbean basin

April 21


Course Description:
This one-semester, three-credit, undergraduate-level course is an introduction to the main issues concerning the evolution, conservation and diversification of the biota of the Caribbean Basin with a focus on the West Indies. It also includes an overview of major topics in Island Biology and Biodiversity. The course will have a journal club and lectures by the instructor and two invited speakers. It will give the students a general knowledge of the biodiversity patterns of the biogeographical region where South Florida is located. This is one of the most fascinating and complex regions of the world. Lectures will cover the origin of the Caribbean and the major climatic and geological events that have shaped its environment. Some of the lectures also will give the students a general introduction on island biogeography using the Caribbean as an example. We anticipate to have one non-mandatory visit to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Four journal club sections will be devoted to read some relevant papers on Caribbean Biodiversity and its conservation. Depending on the number of students the instructor will form discussion groups to discuss the journal club papers.

 Course Requirements:

 - The course is restricted to upper division majors in Biology

- Students are required to:

  1. Attend all class sections, including lectures from instructor and invited speakers. You must be present at the beginning and end of each class section to be considered in attendance.
  2. During each class we will have open book tests (5 minutes per test, 3 multiple choice questions per test) with questions pertinent to the material covered during the lectures of the instructor. These tests will be taken by each student individually. Therefore students will not work in groups to answer the test questions. These tests will count for 20% of the final grade and will be taken during the lectures.
  3. Email Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega their email address in the first two weeks of this course (before January 20th). Students cannot use their relatives' or friends' emaiil They must use their own email accounts. The subject line of this email must follow this formal "CARIBBEAN STUDENT, PANTHER ID, FIRST NAME, LAST NAME"

 Texts, Lecture Notes, and Class Organization:

- There is no text-book on Caribbean Biodiversity and its conservation. Lecture notes are based on several texts Lectures will be based on Power Point presentations that will be available online in FIU Blackboard. It is not certain if the invited speakers will make their presentations available in electronic format. Dr. Ortega also makes use of the board to explain lecture concepts; therefore, students need to be ready to take notes that are no included in the Power Point presentations. Any material covered in the lectures can potentially be included in any of the texts/exams of this course.

- We encourage the students to bring print-outs of the Power Point lectures to each class section.

How to fail this course?:

Here are four good ways to fail:

  1. Coming more late or unprepated to class as this will prevent you to take important notes, grasp relevant concepts that will be part of the exams, and not to perform well during the short class tests.
  2. Show up unprepared on the day of your exams
  3. Show up unprepared for the journal club sections
  4. Not actively participate in discussions during class/journal clubs


Class conduct:

We expect all students to behave as reasonable adults just like in any university classroom in any other school. It is important to have respect towards the instructor and fellow classmates. Inconsiderate, disrespectful, dishonest, or disruptive behavior, as the instructor or your fellow classmates perceive it, or as is described in the Student Handbook, is unacceptable for adults in this course. The instructors reserves the right to ask you to leave or have you removed if such behavior is present. Such behavior may bring about official disciplinary procedures as outlined in the Student Handbook. Please turn off your cell phones and beepers. Eating, and chatting are not allowed during class sections.



We expect all students to follow the directions outlined in this syllabus, announced in class, and distributed via email or computer mailing list, plus others. We are not responsible for issues resulting from lack of knowledge due to students not checking these resources. Also, not having access to these resources is not an excuse--Email not working, wasn't in class when an announcement was made, etc. ALL the important announcements of this course will be made at the beginning of class (first five minutes). Many class announcements will not be posted on the web-page of this course. This syllabus is subject to change, announcements made in class will have priority. Please be sure you do not come late as that you don't want to miss important announcements. Students who have scholarships, or work, or are applying for jobs, or are in the army, or are in their last semester, or need to have a high grade because of their future career plans will be evaluated based on their class performance ONLY. All these extra-curriculum activities will not have any influence concerning their final grade. An incomplete grade will delivered under VERY EXCEPTIONAL circumstances such as MAJOR unexpected health problem of the student or his/her family. Likewise, a makeup for the final exam will be only available under very exceptional circumstances.


Cheating policy:

We will follow strictly the “Student Handbook” regarding cheating. Procedures for both formal and informal procedures can be found under the section “Academic Misconduct” in the “Conduct & Policies” chapter. Anyone caught cheating will be asked to leave the class, will be given an “F” for the course and a petition will be sent to Academic Affairs. I will go strictly by the University’s policy on this issue.


Exams grades.-- Exams grades will be based on the scores from the two hour exams (100 points each), plus the final (100 points). The final exam will be semi-comprehensive: We will focus on material in the latter part of the semester, but will feel free to ask you questions which require concepts and information from throughout the semester. Exams will represent 80% of the final grade. Exam grades will be posted online in the FIU Blackboard.


            Grading will be as follows:

                         A = 269 – 300 points (= 90 – 100%)

                        B+ = 260 – 268 points (= 86 – 89%)

                         B = 251 – 259 points (= 84 – 85%)

                         B- = 239 – 250 points (= 80 – 83%)

                        C+ = 230 – 238 points (= 77 – 79%)

                         C = 221 – 229 points (= 74 – 76%)

                         C- = 209 – 220 points (= 70 – 73%)

                         D = 179 – 208 points (= 60 – 69%)

                          F = < 208 points (< 69%)


Class participation.-- It is expected that students actively participate in the five journal club sections and for the studenst to come regularly and punctual to class.

Graduate students evaluation:

- Exams (1, 2, 3, and final): 80% of the final evaluation grade. Only the three best scores of the three first exams (excluding the final) will count for the final evaluation grade. Final exam is obligatory.

- Classroom regular tests: 20% of the final evaluation grade. Only the 75% best scores will count for the final evaluation grade

Exams: The exams will be based on all the material taught or discussed during classes. This material includes lectures from instructor, guest speaker lectures, journal club sections, and content of videos that might be shown in class. Each exam will be based on multiple choice questions and/or short essay questions.

The day of the exam: Please bring two sharpened #2 pencils with erasers to all exams. All other materials will have to be placed at the front or back of the class, so it is best not to carry anything to the room on exam day. You must sign your exam. It will be turned in when you are finished. No one can leave unless they have returned the exam. When you are finished, you must return ALL materials given to you during the test whether filled out or not. No talking is allowed. Cheating will be dealt with seriously and severely. Grades will be posted online in the FIU Blakboard. Students can check their exams (for a maximum period of one week after the exam has been taken), but exams will not given back to the students. Notes cannot be taken when the exams are being checked. After the Final Exam students can check all of their exams. The day of the exam we strongly recommend the students to come to FIU on Monday morning long before the time of the exam. Students must plan well in advance their schedule for the exam day; it is their responsibility to be sure that the day of the exam they will not face any conflict with other activities and that they can be in FIU at least two hours before the exam. If the student cannot fulfill this requirement because he/she has conflicts with other personal/professional activities then the student should not register for this course. The main reason why the course is offered in the afternoon is to be sure that students have plenty of time to come to the exam.

ARRIVING LATE TO AN EXAM: (Please read this carefully as we will follow a very strict policy on this requirement) If you arrive to an exam more than 30 minutes late, or after the first person finishes the test (whichever comes first) you will not be allowed to take the exam.

MAKE-UPS: There are no make ups exams1, 2, and 3 for this course.  A make up for the final exam will be granted under very special circumstances.





List of Caribbean Islands:

  1. Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cayman Islands)
  2. Cuba
  3. Hispaniola
  4. Puerto Rico
  5. Jamaica
  6. Lesser Antilles (Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia,
  7.  St. Vincent, Grenada, Islands of Northern Venezuela including the Dutch Antilles)
  8. Leeward Islands: The most westerly and northerly of the Lesser Antilles. From North to South (from the Virgin Islands to Marie Galante Island
  9. Windward Islands: The most southernly and Westerly Arc of the Lesser Antilles. From North to South (from Dominica to Grenada). Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, and the islands situated north of the Venezuelan Coast are usually not considered part of this chain of islands
  10. Virgin Islands
  11. St. Kitts
  12. Nevis
  13. Antigua
  14. Barbuda
  15. Montserrat
  16. Guadeloupe
  17. Dominica
  18. Martinique
  19. St. Lucia
  20. St. Vincent
  21. Grenada
  22. Barbados
  23. Tobago
  24. Trinidad
  25. Cayman Islands

 Journal Club Papers:

Journal Club 1-1

Journal Club 1-2

Journal Club 1-3

Journal Club 2-1

Journal Club 2-2

Journal Club 3-1

Journal Club 3-2

Journal Club 3-3

Journal Club 4-1


Updated 7 Octuber 2013