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Reporting on a Research Paper

Forest ecology includes a diversity of topics, some of which we have touched on already.   With these research reports, you will have an opportunity to study and critique a primary research paper.  This exercise will allow you to learn more about a specific area of interest.

In terms of the learning objectives for this course, you will be practicing the following processes: Analyzing data, Critiquing, Synthesizing, and Communicating. 

You are responsible for the concepts covered in all the reports.  Most of them will be familiar to you, but you will be exposed to a variety of contexts.

Each report will address one of the listed topics in the first column and contexts in the second column.  The process for distributing the topics will be revealed on 10/21/05.


  • fire ecology
  • restoration ecology
  • coarse woody debris
  • decomposition
  • carbon storage
  • biodiversity
  • phosphorus
  • nitrogen
  • nutrients
  • roots
  • invertebrates
  • mammals
  • birds
  • reptiles and amphibians


  • eastern deciduous
  • western coniferous
  • temperate oceanic (Australia, NZ)
  • tropics
  • wetlands
  • boreal
  • montane
  • riparian zones
  • plantations
  • old growth forests
  • forest streams
  • succession
  • silviculture

Some journals to choose from:  (We will accept suitable articles from other journals)

Biotropica                                            Biological Conservation

Botanical Gazette                                  Canadian Journal of Botany

Canadian Journal of Forest Research Conservation Biology

Ecology                                                Ecological Applications

Ecological Monographs                        Forest Science

Functional Ecology                               Journal of Ecology

Oecologia                                             Oikos

New Phytologist                                   Plant and Soil

Tree Physiology                                    Forest Ecology and Management

Take care in selecting your journal article.  Consider many articles before selecting one.  If you have trouble finding articles, consult with us.  In writing your report, you will also read and refer to other relevant scientific papers or books that shed light on the question (the reference list in the paper you choose should give you a start into the relevant literature). Find three candidate articles and bring them to one of your instructors for a final selection.  Tell us which one you like best and why. Due date for article selection will be announced in class.

Written Reports

  • Your assignment must be typed and no more than 750 words long, excluding references. This is a strict word limit because one aim of this assignment is to get you to put your ideas across very clearly and concisely. You should revise your report several times to make sure that you clearly say all that you want to say within the word limit. 
  • Cite references following the format used by the journal that published your article.
  • Attach a photocopy of your journal article to the assignment when you hand it in.
  • The written portion of this assignment is worth 50 points and is due on the day of your oral presentation.

Background (15):

What is known and unknown in this area of study? Why is this subject worthy of attention?

What ecological understanding is required to answer the question?  Why is it an important question?

Summarize the study (10):

What were the objectives of the study?

What did they do?

What did they find?

How does this paper contribute new information to the area of study described above?

Critique (10):

Do you see any problems with the approach taken?

What would be an alternative design?  Why did they select this study design? 

Are the conclusions supported by the data?  Why or why not?

Can you make any other suggestions to improve the study or the presentation?

Recommendations (5):

If you were directing an agency responsible for funding additional research in this area, what would you target as the most important next steps?

Format and organization (5)

Clarity and economy of writing (5)

Oral Presentations

You will have 15-20 minutes for your report.  Allow time for discussion.  You may use a chalkboard, an overhead projector, or an LCD projector.  If you are bringing a PowerPoint presentation, you must come early to lab to load your files.  A variety of presentation formats will allow us to learn what makes an effective presentation.  (50 points)

Responsibilities of the Readers

When it is not your turn to present, you will be reading the journal articles, critiquing them, albeit at a more superficial level than the one you present, and giving feedback to the presenters.  You will need to be an attentive and active audience. 

The journal articles will be distributed in advance of each session.  If you study them, you can answer half of the questions on your feedback form in advance of the class (homework!). You will also give feedback regarding each presentation.

Regarding the Journal Article

  1. One or two sentence summary of the paper presented.  HINT: Don’t just tell us what was studied, tell us what was learned.  Be specific.
  2. A strength of the study, and why this was important
  3. A suggestion, and how it could be achieved

Regarding the Presentation

  1. A strength of the presentation, and why this was important
  2. A suggestion for the presenter, and how it could be achieved

There will be two presentations in each class session, and five in one Friday lab period.