Choice of organism due by:  9 February
Final report due: 11 April

 This course is a marine ecology class, not a marine biology class – what’s the difference?  Most marine biology courses focus on organisms that live in marine environments, and the physiology and life-cycles of these organisms.  In a marine ecology we do, of course, discuss marine organisms, but we focus on factors that affect the distribution and abundance of these organisms, and on properties of different marine ecosystems.

 This report is a chance for you to get into the nuts and bolts of the biology of a single organism.  You can choose a bacterium, a protozoan, a plant (phytoplankton, kelp, mangrove…), an aquatic fungus, or an animal (from zooplankton to whales). 

 Your paper should be an interesting, accurate and thorough description of the organism that you choose.  Write your report as for an educated member of the public – make it engaging, yet scientifically accurate.  You should cite at least 3 references in your report, and at least two of these should NOT be websites.  If you are having problems finding references (certain species are less well-studied), come see me.

 Your species description should include (the questions posed in each section are just examples of the types of issues that you might address in these categories; don’t feel constrained to limiting your account to these areas; some areas might not apply to your creature):

(1) Classification – give the taxonomic classification for your organism (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species); if there is any current scientific uncertainty about the classification, you can mention this as well (much taxonomy is in a current state of flux as morphological classifications are modified with the addition of genetic data)

(2) Geographic Range – in which ocean regions does it occur? 

(3) Physical Description – what does this organism look like?  How big is it?  What shape, size, polymorphisms are present?  Are there two sexes?  Do they look alike?  Do the juveniles look like the adults?

(4) Food habits – Is it an autotroph?  If it’s a heterotroph, what does it eat?  Does it have special adaptations for photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, or feeding?

(5) Reproduction – What is the life history of the organism?  How does it reproduce?  Are there any interesting facts about its life cycle?

(6) Behavior and social system – This will be a longer section for some organisms than for others.  Is your organism solitary or colonial?  Is it sessile?  Does it interact with other individuals of the same species?  Is it a social organism?  What sensory abilities does it have?  How does it interact with the environment?  Does the organism have any anti-predation behaviors or devices?

(7) Habitat – In what marine habitat does your organism live?  Is it pelagic?  Does it live in the deep sea?  Is it a salt marsh resident?  Does it move between several habitats?

(8) Conservation and biodiversity – Is your species threatened?  Is it on the IUCN list, CITES appendices or US Endangered species list?  Do you have reason to think that it is endangered, or are populations of your species in good shape.  If the species is listed, are any recovery or protection efforts underway?  Would you suggest other efforts?

(9) Economic importance – Is your species utilized by humans?  If so, how?  Does your species play an ecological role that might indirectly influence economically important species or cause direct human effects?  How do humans interact with this species (if at all)

(10) Other comments – Did you learn any other ‘gee whiz’ facts about your organism?  This is your chance to tell us how cool your creature is.

(11) References – in each section you must include citations for your information (author year) – for example, (Nybakken and Bertness 2005).  In this section, you will list the full sources for your information.  See your textbook for proper citation format.


This paper should be about 4-6 pages long.  Obviously there is more information available for some well-studied species (such as many marine mammals and economically-important fish), and I will expect a more detailed report if you choose a species that has had an abundance of research attention.

 Please write clearly, and check your spelling and grammar.  If you choose an organism that you are curious about, it is likely that your enthusiasm will result in a more interesting species account.



If you feel like getting up to 2 extra credit points for this project, and increasing educational information on the web, and becoming a famous web author, take advantage of this opportunity.

When you have finished your report, in addition to handing me a hard copy paper, you will transfer it into html format (see me if you need help with this) as a webpage.  Format your page nicely with an easily accessible style and graphics (if any).  Hand in your electronic file with your written report.  I’ll start a class marine diversity website and publish your species description there. 

 Return to Marine Ecology Lecture homepage

 Return to K.L. Schulz's homepage