Marine Biology is an endlessly fascinating subject of study that examines an amazing diversity of organisms across all sub-disciplines of biology, from the molecular to the ecological. The field of marine biology focuses on the adaptations of organisms to a diverse and challenging habitat, the ocean, as well how these organisms interact with one another. In my opinion, there are two reasons that marine biology is so interesting to so many people: First, we humans are relatively unfamiliar with marine habitats – they can seem foreign or otherworldly – which makes the organisms that live there, and their adaptations to their environments, appear strange and compelling. The second aspect of the marine world that fascinates biologists is the evolutionary age of the taxa that inhabit the ocean – life arose in the oceans, after all. As a result, there are many more phyla of animals to be found in the ocean than on land, with wonderfully odd body plans and life strategies. In each case, however, the breadth and strangeness of marine organisms hides an underlying unity with the species that live on land – whether in terms of molecular, biochemical, physiological or ecological processes. Marine biologists can use this basic similarity in processes between marine and terrestrial species to explore fundamental requirements and limitations of life itself.
During this course we will study a multitude of marine environments and the organisms that live there from a variety of perspectives. First, since the marine realm is unfamiliar and somewhat unintuitive to us land-based species, we will examine the physical and chemical (i.e., abiotic) processes and characteristics that both support and challenge marine organisms. Examples of these physical properties include tides and waves, as well as distributions of temperature, oxygen and nutrients. Second, we will explore the variety of organisms that inhabit different marine habitats, from the intertidal zone to the deep sea, and discuss the types of adaptations, from the biochemical to the anatomical, that allow each to survive. Third, we will study how marine organisms interact, both with conspecifics and with other species, whether as predators, prey, or competitors for resources. Finally, we will discuss the role of the oceans as a resource for humans, and the impacts that resource utilization and other human activities have on marine biota.
Because this is a writing-intensive course, during the semester students will also be responsible for two papers which delve more deeply into marine biology topics that interest you. One paper will involve literature review, and will require you to describe in detail a group of marine organisms that you find interesting. The second paper, associated with the laboratory portion of the course, will require you to report the results of a multi-week independent research project, in the format of an article from the primary literature. Hopefully, through your experiences in lecture, labs, field trips, and research, you will come to appreciate more fully the wonderful diversity and history of life in the oceans.