Spring 2010:  Tuesdays, 2:30 to 5pm, 3 cr.,
in Morrill Science Center III, room 215
Lynn Margulis (LM) and Richard Wilkie (RW)
TA: James MacAllister

Syllabus for GEO-SCI 692G Spring 2010 (PDF)

Evolution Geography, a new course develops a conceptual framework for studying evolution within the context of interconnected Earth physical systems and life, including humans, and the processes that have changed them as they relate to geography.  Not a course about competition, neoDarwinian population genetics and differential survival, rather we look more at the role of ecological relationships, including symbioses at the level of communities. Communities evolve through an interdependence of a functioning set of systems that all require a continuous flux of matter and energy.  In the case of humans, our diffusion over the Earth’s surface is correlated with innovation, technology and change.  All geographical Earth systems, including those of organisms embedded in their environment, involve interplay of components that lead to change on both physical and human cultural landscapes, some with catastrophic consequences for certain species.

Communities of life go through short-term ecological succession that becomes long-term evolutionary change.  Disruption and continuity in the environment, community member relations are reflected in the increase and decrease in the numbers of the members of populations comprising component species. 


Lynn Margulis


Richard Wilkie

Part I of the course has four sessions that set out to develop this conceptual framework: 

Session 1 describes the discipline of geography: how human systems--recent within the biosphere--are always situated within specific spaces and places.  In attempts to understand the processes of change, we take brief looks at two 19th Century scientists who made lasting contributions to understanding interconnected systems—Alexander von Humboldt and Christian Ehrenberg.

Session 2 explores the importance of geochronology as a framework to understand the history of life linking the Pleistocene natural history of humans, the international geological time scale and the fossil record.
Session 3 traces the ‘Journey of Man’ around the globe through migration, the rise of human populations and how the genetic evidence coupled with paleontology, physical anthropology and archeology explain demographic population growth patterns through human prehistory and into the Holocene.  The rise of human populations more recently are explored through studies in demography and population geography.  Human population growth in the 19th Century increased from an estimated 957 million in 1800 to 1.65 billion in 1900, and in the 110 years since then the Earth has added an additional 5.3 billion humans to the current total--projected to reach a population of 7 billion in 2011.   Four stages in the ‘demographic transition’ will explain how this process occurred, along with a look at global migration, urbanization and the growth of megacities.

Session 4 looks at the current state of Earth systems/human system interaction.   More specifically:

 LM looks at the biosphere and evolution of its embedded life is describe in the context of the principles of  evolution, a composite  process that involves (1) exponential growth of populations (biotic potential), (2) heritable evolutionary novelty acted on by (3) natural selection. RW creates a physical elements diagram of current Earth system relationships, including the impact of human populations in different biomes of the world.

Part II of the course looks at four case studies of origin, continuity and change in selected communities: 
LM describes principles of energy, matter and electron flow, ‘bacteria as units of life’, for two microbial communities: (1) coastal microbial mats in sulfureta and (2) cellulose and lignin degradation by the wood-eating cockroach and termite intestinal communities.          RW has one session on Alexander von Humboldt in greater depth as he explored the global relationships between climate, vegetation and human settlement at different latitudes and elevations, as well as volcanic forces in geographical Earth systems.  In case study two, RW traces evolution, change, and the development of a community of Volga-Deutsch immigrants in Argentina over 130 years.

James MacAllister

Week 9 (March 30)   Field trip to the Harvard Forest or to Wilkie’s farm in south Amherst.

Part III of the course covering three weeks (April 6, 13 and 20) involves student presentations.  Either a physical or human related topic that draws from earlier sessions, each presentation will be 10 minutes long with 5 minute discussions.  [At least one week prior to presentations, students must turn in a title, outline, and key references.]  
The final two weeks include a field trip to Catamount Mountain, Colrain, MA, to an old settlement landscape that lasted between the 1730s and 1920s, but has returned to forest land in a protected state forest. 
The course concludes on May 4th.