Forensic Ecology
Seminar - UHON 301

Instructor(s): Jason Moore

Course Description

Not all ecological interactions occur under the watchful eye of a trained observer, but understanding such unseen interactions can be of great importance to our understanding of the world. In this class we will undertake a genuine scientific research project to recover some unseen and unknown ecology. 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 of your own from the depths of the history of life on Earth. 

In 2022, the Forensic Ecology course will spend its time studying some of the most amazing vertebrate fossils that we have found (mostly from the published literature, but hopefully with some visits to actual collections near to UNM) to see if the position in which an ancient animal dies gives any hint as to its cause of death. There have been a couple of studies of such patterns in the past, but they have come with significant flaws that we will discover – with the help of guest researcher, Dr. Ewan Wolff, you will be rectifying this!  


All readings for this class will be generated by the class participants themselves during the course of the semester from the primary scientific literature. What we read will depend on the questions you decide to ask! 


This course is centered on generating and communicating the results of a scientific research project. You will be expected to spend time gathering data in lieu of typical homework assignments. After the data are gathered and interpreted, you will have to communicate your results in three ways: a formal scientific paper, a poster presentation, and a presentation for a lay audience. 

About the Instructor(s): Jason Moore

Dr. Moore received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. He studies how vertebrate ecosystems change through time and is fascinated by the power and simplicity of the evolutionary process. 


Guest Instructor Dr. Ewan Wolff earned their Ph.D. from Montana State University and a DVM from UW Madison and became a veterinary specialist over the next decade.  Dr. Wolff is interested in phylogenetic patterns of disease and what this tells us about life in the past.