Ecosystem Science MOD

Yale-Myers Forest

In their book on the fundamentals of ecosystem science, Weathers et al. (2013) start by introducing the idea that humans have devised many intellectual systems to understand and manage the complicated world in which we live, from physics to philosophy to economics. One such intellectual system is ecosystem science. It is a science that tries to make sense of the complex natural world and help us to better manage it. Ecosystems can be highly varied in size and character, from a little pool of water in a tree cavity, to a redwood forest, to a neighborhood in a city, to a frigid river, to the entire globe. Nevertheless, a common set of tools and ideas can be used to analyze and understand these varied and complicated systems. The results of these analyses are both intellectually satisfying and useful in managing our planet for the benefit of humankind and nature. Indeed, because of the growing demands placed on living and nonliving resources by humans, it could be argued that ecosystem science is one of the essential core disciplines needed to understand and manage the modern planet Earth. The overarching objective of this module is to explore the ecosystem framework for sustainable resource science, assessment, and management.
MODs YMF talk
Within the fields of both science and management, the ecosystem has increasingly become the unit on which data is collected and policies enacted. Tansley (1935) is credited with coining the term “ecosystem” and defined it as a physical concept in which the physical-chemical environment and biotic organisms interact to form an ecosystem. His contribution was in considering that all the parts – both living and non-living – together interacted to form a system, albeit his formulation was much more abstract than the meaning the word connotes today. Odum (1953) set us on the path toward the modern definition, describing an ecosystem as “...any entity or natural unit that includes living and nonliving parts interacting to produce a stable system in which the exchange of materials between the living and nonliving parts follows circular paths.” Weathers et al. (2013) expand this definition by formalizing the idea the living and nonliving objects occur in “...a specified volume of space”, solidifying the modern definition that an ecosystem can be delineated and so can be observed, measured and managed. In reality, ecosystems are complex constructs that often defy clear and unambiguous delineation. You will grapple with some of this ambiguity as we being to explore studying or managing ecosystems to understand the ecological processes and interactions that maintain the capacity of the ecosystem to function and respond to change.


At the end of the week you should have become familiar with or refreshed your understanding of:
  • The ecosystem as a conceptual and practical tool to view, understand and manage natural resources
  • Applying mathematical data concepts including variables, scales, units, unit conversions, accuracy, and precision
  • Sources of error in data and how that in influences data-based decision making
  • Uses and abuses of statistical concepts for ecosystem measurement, interpretation and decision making
  • A range of sampling techniques for measuring ecosystem components, including fixedplots and transects
  • Approaches used for bottom-up ecosystem measurement.
Making decisions about natural resources and the environment requires that basic knowledge of ecosystems often be derived from limited or incomplete information. Resource policies and management decisions are based on both an understanding of cause-effect processes and knowledge about environmental conditions. Formulating effective and appropriate land use regulations to protect water quality, for example, requires proper understanding of water quality parameters, of land use classifications, and of how different land uses affect water quality. Insight into ecological patterns and processes arises out of experience and extrapolation from the existing knowledge base. Ideally, resource management and policy decisions are based more on fact (objective knowledge) than on intuition and opinion. As we will show this week, however, “facts” about ecological conditions contain variation, error, and bias. Understanding the sources of variation, error, and bias is crucial to both producing and using ecological data. A core theme of this module is to improve your ability to evaluate ecosystem data by introducing/reviewing principles of and techniques for quantifying natural resources.

The week’s exercises illustrate field data collection, research design, data analysis, and data interpretation. The module provides an overview of issues involved in scientific inquiry about ecosystems; it is not intended to cover any of these topics comprehensively but rather introduce you to the ecosystem framework, and the challenges and benefits of using it as a conceptual tool to study and manage natural resources. We will explore issues involved in managing the Yale School Forests for multiple objectives, which include manipulating stands and scheduling harvests to generate a sustainable income, providing an educational and research resource, and maintaining a diverse and healthy mix of plant, animal and microbial communities. We will use a variety of sampling designs and techniques to quantify the composition and condition of habitats under different forest stands. We will use the data as a basis for discussing the implications of various natural resource management objectives.

Be prepared for Yale-Myers

The field portion of this module will be conducted at The Yale-Myers Forest in Union, CT. The facilities are rustic. The bunk houses sleep 4-8 people per room and beds are available for almost everyone, but you are welcome to bring your own tent. We will provide a few group tents to share. Please take this survey to let us know if you will bring your own tent. You WILL need a sleeping bag!


  • Drinking cup/mug, plate/bowl (plastic or metal) and utensils (knife, fork, spoon) – there are no dishes/utensils provided at Yale Myers
  • Bring your own Lunch on Monday
  • Boots – work boots, hiking boots, or sturdy-soled running shoes. This is a necessity – you will be bushwhacking (i.e. walking through the woods off-trail)
  • Poncho/Rain gear – both rain jacket and rain pants – field work will continue even if it rains (within reason)
  • Long pants – you will be bushwhacking through the woods
  • Warm clothing (wool or fleece jacket), long pants, and warm socks – nights can be cold even in the summer months
  • Toiletries
  • Towels – for the shower and swimming
  • Sleeping bag – (we have a few of these that can be borrowed for use during MODs by students who may not have or be able to bring them from home.) Both camps have bunkhouses/cabins with beds, but no sheets, pillows or blankets
  • If want to bring a tent, you are welcome to camp out in the fields at Yale Myers
  • Flashlight or headlamp and spare batteries - essential
  • Insect repellent – insects can make it difficult to carry out assignments. "Cutters" or "Deep Woods Off" are in favor. Please use a cream, pump, or rub-on style rather than aerosol (which should be avoided given inhalation risks by you and nearby students when you apply it)
  • Small backpack, belt pack, or day pack – to carry your lunch, measuring instruments, and other small items, into the field
  • Water bottle (re-useable)
  • Pencils and a good field notebook or a clipboard


In addition to your regular clothing, footwear, personal items, etc. that you will pack, here is a short list
of items you’ll need that you might not have thought about:
  • Bathing suit and towel
  • Shower shoes
  • Pillow
  • Musical instruments, if you play
  • Camera
  • Binoculars

Items the School Supplies You With

  • Transportation to and from Yale-Myers Forest
  • Meals at Yale-Myers, except for lunch on Monday
  • All field supplies (except notebooks and pencils),
  • Loan of plant identification guides

Hazards to Be Aware Of

Poison ivy, ticks, and yellow jacket stings. If you are allergic prepare with proper medications and let your TAs know! We will do a safety orientation at each MOD, so don’t be concerned if you are not familiar with these local pests. We’ll make sure you are prepared.
MODs YM bunks
MODs YM stream
MODs YM logging
MODs YM swim
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