Skip to main content

Forensic Ecology

Jason Moore,

Not all ecological interactions occur under the watchful eye of a trained observer, but understanding such unseen interactions can be of great importance, both to scientists and, increasingly, to law-enforcement officials. In this class we will learn what kinds of ecological interactions we can reconstruct from crime scenes, landscape surveys and fossil assemblages. We will examine the wide range of processes that can obscure ecological information post-mortem, and how we can leverage some of these processes to our advantage in understanding past ecologies. 

During the lab portion of this class you will apply your learnt forensic ecological skills as part of a small group, by designing and undertaking a series of experiments or analyses to recover ecological information (or whose results would help others recover ecological information) from a dataset from the age of the dinosaurs.

The vast majority of this course will consist of a large research project of your own design. I want to drop you in at the deep end as soon as possible, so we will spend the first three weeks of the semester laying a basic groundwork for the course, and then we will leap into the science itself. This will be unlike other science courses that you have taken, in that the main goal will be to actually undertake new science, with all of the uncertainties, blind alleys and frustrations that entails. 

You will be undertaking your research in groups that will be assigned in the third week of class, but your final write-up should be written individually. There will be a series of ~5 short written projects (3-5 pages including diagrams) through the semester to prepare you for your final write-up. Most of these will be incorporated into your final project write-up. Throughout the course you will learn a range of scientific communication techniques that you will have to apply to your particular project. You will have to keep a research blog for the majority of the semester, with weekly entries describing your progress, goals and insights. Your final project will consist of a ~20 page write-up in the form of a publishable scientific article. After the class has finished, independent study credits will be available for those students interested in synthesizing all of the class data into an article for formal publication in a peer-reviewed journal.




Jason Moore earned his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 2006, with a focus on the reconstruction of vertebrate palaeoecological patterns. Subsequently he has worked on a large number of studies examining ecology in the past, both from recent assemblages (i.e. bones from the Yellowstone River in Montana and shells from Baja California) and fossil assemblages (from a range of time periods in the US and India). Dr. Moore is fascinated by both the complexity of teasing ecological information from the past, and by the amazing insight that can be gleaned with the correct techniques.