The Global Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Forests

« Return to Course Catalog

This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

Forests cover just under a third of the earth’s land surface. This course will explore these critically important ecosystems and the species that comprise them through space and time, taking a global perspective to understand the ways that forests create and respond to change. In this course, students will look into the past to better understand the present distribution and function of forests, with the goal of making predictions about what the future holds for forest ecosystems globally.

Forest ecosystems play critical roles in regulating global cycles, providing resources and habitats for organisms (including humans!), and shaping human cultures and livelihoods. A diversity of plant, animal, and fungal species comprise these ecosystems, creating complex networks that change dynamically through time and space. In this course we focus on these changes, taking a global perspective to gain an appreciation for the ways that forests create and respond to global change. Students will consider the basic attributes of forests and their diversity in the world today. We will engage with scientific literature and focused-case studies, exploring how those forests have changed in the deep and recent past. Students will learn about the challenges of communicating spatial and temporal data, finding examples of maps and timelines in popular-media to deconstruct and analyze. Finally, the knowledge gained in the course will be used to make predictions about future forests. Students will leave the course able to engage with scientific literature at the college level, interpret maps and complex figures, think critically about data visualization, and be familiar with a coding language. These skills will be of immense value for students both in their college careers and in their every-day engagement with complex media.

The course will incorporate short talks/activities led by guest instructors, including researchers, science writers and journalists, and community advocates. These guest sessions will give students unique opportunities to engage with a variety of science careers. Students will also engage with course material outside of the classroom through “field sessions” around campus. These sessions include identifying and mapping tree species on campus and an instructor-guided ecology walk in a local forest park in Providence. This course aims to blend lectures, real-world observations, technical skills, and published literature for students to explore the many facets of forest ecology.

The instructors for this course are Ph.D. candidates in ecology with experience working in a variety of forest ecosystems around the world. Lindsay McCulloch is a tropical forest ecologist and an expert on how species work together to regulate nutrient cycles through her work in the forests of Costa Rica, Panama, and Brazil. Lindsay’s tropical expertise is complemented by Daniel Perret’s focus on temperate forests, where he uses tree-ring data to explore how climate regulates the growth of native and invasive tree species. These instructors will give students a global perspective on forests by using a broad range of experience and research expertise.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
Describe the global distribution and diversity of forest ecosystems
Understand forest structure and how forests have changed through time
Appreciate how past changes can help us make predictions about the future
Read a scientific study and explain the main goals and conclusions
Interpret maps and complex figures and understand how data visualization choices affect the interpretation

Prerequisites: Prerequisites:
High school biology
Interest in science

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEES0927
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information

[email protected]

Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

Visit Program Page Information Sessions Learn How to Apply
Back to Top