Jean H. Burns Lab: Teaching

Need a senior capstone in Biology?

Interested in learning some programming skills?

Consider taking the new capstone course (Spring semester):

BIOL314: Taming the Tree of Life: Phylogenetic Comparative Methods— from Concept to Practical Application

Biologists have long been fascinated by the diversity of life. Why are there so many species? Why are some of them similar and others divergent? How has evolution shaped ecological interactions, such as disease-host dynamics? The “tree of life” describes phylogenetic hypotheses for evolutionary history among species, and modern phylogenetic comparative methods allow us to incorporate the tree of life into statistical analyses. This course will introduce phylogenetic comparative methods, why they are needed to answer many biological questions, how they are conducted, and how they can be used to evaluate hypotheses. These methods can be used for any group of organisms, from humans and their diseases, to plants, animals, or fungi. These methods can also be used to address a broad suite of questions in biology, including biomedical, ecological, evolutionary, developmental, and neuromechanical questions. For example, issues of public health can be more deeply addressed using these tools. Students may bring their own data sets, or may use existing data sets, and will develop an independent research project using these tools. Undergraduates will present a poster at a public poster fair, as part of the requirements for the SAGES capstone.

No prior experience with the R statistics language is necessary for this course.

BIOL314 fulfills the requirements for an undergraduate capstone in biology.

Dr. Burns teaches Principles in Ecology, BIOL 351/451 and the Principles in Ecology Laboratory, BIOL 351L/451L.


Why are some species abundant and others rare, some widespread and others restricted in their distribution? Ecology seeks to explain the interactions that lead to these patterns of distribution and abundance. The lecture course includes many active learning modules, so come prepared to participate in class and small group discussions.


Stormwater runoff from local communities can have large effects on the ecology of our streams and lakes. In the Principles in Ecology Laboratory, we conduct several field research projects, including a service-learning project on stream habitat quality at West Creek, near Parma, Ohio. The West Creek laboratory is conducted in collaboration with Cleveland Metroparks. We learn how to conduct a rapid habitat quality assessment on primary headwater streams, analyze and interpret the results, and present these results as collaborative poster presentations to an audience including the Cleveland Metroparks.

Service Learning

Many of the activities in these classes involve service learning, where students perform a service in the community (see right) in order to reinforce concepts and conduct important local ecology.

Service learning has been supported by grant funds from The Environmental Protection Agency to GLISTEN (the Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship Through Education Network) grant# NE 00E01029, CFDA# 66.951 to the University's National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE) and by the Small Business Administration and the Western Reserve Resource Conservation and Development Council. Special thanks to Glenn Odenbrett for securing these funds.

Principles in Ecology Laboratory at West Creek.

In 2011, we began a collaborative service-learning laboratory with Cleveland Metroparks. Here the class collects data on habitat quality at a headwater stream at West Creek, Parma, Ohio. This project provides data that will be used to mitigate stormwater runoff in the watershed.

Principles in Ecology Lecture volunteering at Hinckley Reservation.

Students in the Principles in Ecology Lecture course (BIOL351/451) can choose to do a volunteer activities that reinforces ecological concepts as one of their assignment options. Here the fall 2013 class is assisting with a stream bank restoration at Hinckley Reservation, part of the Cleveland Metroparks, at a restoration event hosted by Jennifer Grieser. This work reinforces ecological concepts.

Special thanks to Deanna Drenten for acting as the undergraduate stewardship liaison on this project.

Independent research

Opportunities for senior capstone projects (BIOL 388S) and other independent research opportunities for students are often available. Please make an appointment with Dr. Burns to discuss research opportunities.