John Anderson

John G.T. Anderson
W.H. Drury Professor of Ecology/Natural History
207-801-5717 | | faculty website

John AndersonThe current focus of my research is on colonial nesting seabirds and island ecology. I am also interested in the application of G.I.S.and remote-sensing technology to landscape ecology and conservation. At present the bulk of my field research centers around Great Duck Island in eastern Maine.This island supports one of the largest colonies of Leach's Storm Petrels in the continental United States, it may also be the largest breeding colony of Black Guillemots in the Lower 48. At present my students and I are looking at habitat utilization by Herring and Black-backed Gulls, Guillemots, and Petrels. In addition we are examining territoriality and foraging behaviors by gulls and chick survival/mortality in relation to parental investment. We are in the process of completing comprehensive G.I.S. based mapping of Great Duck Island,which includes habitat parameters, nesting locations, shoreline structure, etc.

In addition to work at Great Duck I am interested in the intersection between Natural History and Human History in relation to long-term ecological processes. Each Summer teams of students and I visit a variety of islands in the Gulf of Maine, talking with residents and examining the effects of present and past land-use practices on the configuration of island landscapes. I am particularly interested in the effects of human influences-both in terms of active management and incidental use on our ideas of wilderness, and appropriate strategies for conserving biodiversity.

B.A. University of California, Berkeley, 1979
M.A. Ecology and Systematic Biology, San Francisco State University, 1982
Ph.D. Biological Sciences, University of Rhode Island, 1987

John holds the William H. Drury, Jr. Chair in Evolution, Ecology and Natural History
Professor William Holland Drury, Jr. was one of a handful of distinguished professors of natural history who left Harvard University in the late 1970s to teach at the newly forming College of the Atlantic. The William H. Drury Chair was established in 2002 with contributions from many people, including Bill Drury's family, friends and former students. The Drury Chair was intended to support the work of a teacher and researcher who would continue the legacy of Bill Drury's work on conserving and managing natural populations and communities on Maine's islands and coast.

Courses Taught

ES005Animal Behavior

This course reviews how simple and stereotyped actions may be built into complex behaviors and even into apparently sophisticated group interactions. Emphasis is placed on contemporary understanding of Darwinian selection, ethology, behavioral ecology and sociobiology. There are two classes a week. Extensive readings are chosen from a text and articles from scientific and popular periodicals. Evaluations are based on participation in discussions and several quizzes. Level: Intermediate/Advanced. Requires a previous intermediate-level course in species zoology, and signature of the instructor. Offered every other year. Class limit: 15. Lab fee $10. *ES*

ES5012Conservation Biology

This course examines the causes, extent, and ecological significance of the endangered species "crisis."  We examine the role of extinctions in evolutionary history and compare "natural" extinctions to current events in the Neotropics, Orient, and Oceania.  We also discuss the significance of successful introductions of exotic species into different regions and their effects on native forms.  Changes in land use patterns and the science of Landscape Ecology are investigated.  Finally, we examine current conservation techniques in an effort to establish a workable synthesis for specific case histories.  There are two lectures/discussions per week, occasional evening lectures.

Level: Advanced.  Pre-requisites: One intermediate Ecology course and/or signature of instructor.  Class limit: 15.  Lab fee $10.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES4030Costa Rican Natural History and Conservation

This team-taught, intensive, field-based course examines the ecology and biotic diversity found at several sites within Costa Rica and the implications of this diversity on concepts of conservation biology. Whereas primary emphasis will be placed on Central American herpetofauna and avifauna, we will also discuss and examine issues of botanical, mammalian, etc. diversity and abundance, and the significance of the full array of species in more general studies of land-use and protective strategies. Students will meet during the winter term to discuss a range of articles and book-chapters dealing with aspects of conservation biology and Costa Rican natural history and culture during the winter term but the major emphasis of the course will be a two-week immersion in key habitats within Costa Rica itself during the March break. Non-travel days will consist of early to late-morning fieldwork, afternoon lectures/presentations followed by early evening to late night fieldwork. The course is based out of three field sites: lowland Caribbean slope rainforest at Tirimbina ecological reserve in north central Costa Rica, montane forest of the Arenal and Tenorio volcanic region, and Pacific slope dry forest of the Nicoya Peninsula. Evaluation will be based on detailed field journals, course participation, and a series of examinations testing student’s knowledge of species and concepts.

Level: Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisites: Permission of instructor. Course fee $1000.00 (covers food, transport and lodging in Costa Rica, students provide airfare to Costa Rica). Class limit: 15. Meets the following degree requirements: ES


This course examines ecology in the classic sense:  the study of the causes and consequences of the distribution and abundance of organisms.  The course consists of two one-and-one-half hour lectures per week plus weekly field trips and one three-day camping trip to Isle au Haut to conduct comparative studies on island ecology.  We examine the assumptions and predictions of general models of predator-prey interactions, inter- and intra-species competition, island biogeography, and resource use, and compare these models to the results of experimental tests in lab and field.  In addition we discuss appropriate techniques used by ecologists in collecting data in the field, and apply some of these techniques on field trips.  Readings include selections from the primary literature.  Students are evaluated on the basis of class participation, a number of quizzes, problem sets, and a final exam.  

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites:  Biology I and II, and signature of instructor.  Offered every year.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee $75.   Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES4038Ecology and Natural History of the American West

The American West has played a key role in the development of modern ecology and in our overall understanding of the Natural History of North America. Researchers such as Joseph Grinnell, Starker Leopold, Ned Johnson, Phillip Munz and Jim Patton contributed enormously to our understanding of the interactions, distribution and abundance of the enormous range of plants and animals occupying the western states, while the incredible variety of topography found between the Pacific slope and Great Basin Desert, containing both the highest and lowest points in the Lower 48, has provided an ideal setting for both observation and experimentation. This intensive field-based course will provide students with the opportunity to examine first-hand some key habitats within Nevada, California, and New Mexico, and to conduct a series of short projects on the fauna and flora in select sites. Areas to be examined will include terminal saline lakes, open deserts , montane meadows, pine forest, riparian hardwoods, wetlands, and agricultural landscapes. Readings will include primary sources and more popular accounts of both locations and the peoples who have lived in these lands over the past several thousand years. Evaluation will be based on class participation, a series of individual research projects and presentations, a detailed field journal, a mid-term and a final exam.  This course will be integrated with and requires co-enrollment in Reading the West and Wilderness in the West.

Level: Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisites: Permission of instructor.  Class limit: 9.  Lab fee: none.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES3016Functional Vertebrate Anatomy

This course provides an overview of morphological variation in the vertebrates.  Emphasis is placed on modifications of the general vertebrate body plan in response to the requirements of survival in different habitats and different forms of locomotion.  The class examines possible evolutionary pathways from a presumed aquatic "proto-vertebrate" through the development and radiation of fish and terrestrial animals and secondarily aquatic species such as the marine mammals.  Students are evaluated on participation in lab and lecture, a number of quizzes, and one term project.  Two lectures/discussion sessions and one lab period per week.  

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites:  Biology I and II or equivalent.  Offered every other winter.  Class limit: 15.  Lab fee: $25.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES4018Human Anatomy and Physiology I

This is the first course in a two term sequence designed for students interested in pursuing medicine or biomedical research examines aspects of human anatomy and physiology, with particular emphasis on the digestive system, reproductive physiology, the  circulatory system, immune response, and elements of nutrition and  neurophysiology. This course will emphasize the relationships between anatomy and physiology and will focus on basic principles of biochemistry, the Musculoskeletal system, digestion, nutrition, osmoregulation,  and circulation.  Readings include a standard pre-medical text and  some  primary literature.  Evaluation is based on a number of in-class quizzes a  term paper, participation in discussion and a final exam.  

Level:Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisite: Biology course work, some background in chemistry and permission of Instructor. Students are strongly encouraged to take both terms. Class size: 15. Lab fee: $30. Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES4020Human Anatomy and Physiology II

This two term sequence designed for students interested in pursuing medicine or biomedical research examines aspects of human anatomy and physiology, with particular emphasis on the digestive system, reproductive physiology, the circulatory system, immune response, and elements of nutrition and neurophysiology.  Readings include a standard pre-medical text and  some primary literature.  Evaluation is based on a number of in-class quizzes a term paper, participation in discussion and a final exam.  

Level: Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisite: Biology course work, some background in chemistry and permission of instructor. Students are strongly encouraged to take both terms. Class size: 15. Lab fee $10. Meets the following degree requirements: ES

MD042Humans in Place: Natural/Cultural History of Maine's Islands

This intensive field-based course is an interdisciplinary examination of the changing relationship between humans and landscape in a region where people have lived continuously for several thousand years: the eastern Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. The Gulf of Maine?s vast archipelago of islands is the setting for a wide range of both human and non-human communities. This is one of the richest areas of biological productivity in eastern North America and its fisheries have supported human cultures since pre-Columbian times. Sitting on the intersection between cold northern currents and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, the region provides feeding and breeding grounds for a broad range of species from both arctic and tropical regions. For example, the Gulf provides breeding habitat for more than half of all seabirds nesting in eastern North America, and is also a critical feeding area for the endangered Right Whale and many other marine mammals. In this course we will study historical and current relationships among human cultures, fisheries, seabirds, and marine mammals, focusing on the feedbacks that change or preserve human cultures and economies. These case studies will serve as a model for understanding other land/seascapes, including the home regions of participants. The class will be team-taught by faculty from three colleges within the EcoLeague, and supported by several guest speakers. Two students from each EcoLeague institution will be selected to participate. The bulk of the course will be based on three sites: the College of the Atlantic?s two field stations on Great Duck Island and Mt. Desert Rock, and Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, Canada. Course begins August 18th, ends on September 8th in Bar Harbor, ME. Level: Advanced. Prerequisites: Ecology and/or Natural History, and at least one other course in interdisciplinary environmental studies/human ecology, and permission of EcoLeague faculty panel through written application p

ES4016Island Life

Islands have played a major role in the development of ecological and evolutionary theory. Most recently, islands have served as an important metaphor in the development of conservation biology. Maine is blessed with a plethora of islands -between 4500 and 6000 at the last count- and the history and pre-history of these islands is intimately entwined with that of the continent itself. This course examines historical and current interpretations of island biogeography and the interplay between natural and human history and human ecology. The class will be taught as a combination of term-time seminar and in the field, based on the College's field station on Great Duck Island and the R/V Indigo. During the Spring term we will be meeting regularly to examine the theoretical basis of Island Biogeography and islands as the subject of scientific and literary discussion since Aristotle. Readings will include Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace, and contemporary authors.  In late August we will re-convene for the field component of the class. During the first half of this component, we will be focusing primarily on Great Duck Island and its immediate surroundings, learning and applying theoretical approaches to islands' landscapes, with extensive reading from the primary literature. During the second half of the class, we will move further afield, exploring a variety of islands in eastern Maine, and relating our observations to theoretical predictions. Ultimately we hope to travel to Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy to observe a large island community, see the traditional weir fishery, and observe firsthand migrating Right and Hump-backed whales, and northern seabirds. Evaluation based on participation, quizzes and a term project. Intermediate/Advanced. Class size limited to 8. Prerequisites: Permission of instructor. Workshop in boat-handling and/or significant experience on the water is a good idea. INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED Lab fee: $150, which helps to cover food  and travel for the field component of the course. Meets the following degree requirements: ES

MD1010Islands Through Time

14,000 years of Human Ecology on the Coast of Maine
The coast of Maine is an ideal location for studies of the effects of changing ecologies, landscapes, and cultures on the human experience. 14000 years ago, the entire area was covered with a dense ice sheet, and at present we are facing the uncertain future of Global Warming. Between these points, the coast and islands have experienced flood, fire, earthquakes, and an enormous range of human and non-human occupants. This team-taught course will use the inter-disciplinary lens of Human Ecology to examine the consequences, implications, and potential meanings of our dwelling within both this particular landscape and other landscapes perhaps initially more familiar to students. A strong emphasis will be placed upon developing a "sense of place" through the examination of a novel, scientific writing, music, and experiential venturing upon the land and seas, learning about the history, culture, ecology, oceanography and geology of the Maine coastline, both in and by the ocean. Although a substantial element of each day's work will take the form of field trips, students will also be responsible for readings, attending a series of lectures by faculty and local experts, and working with multimedia forms. Interest in music, writing, and ecology are strongly encouraged. Students will be evaluated based on class participation, a daily log of their experiences plus several short "response pieces" to assigned readings, and a multi-media presentation capturing some aspect of their learning. Students will receive narrative evaluations and a grade of CREDIT or NO CREDIT.

Level:  Introductory.  Prerequisites: Signature of Instructor.


This class will examine the anatomy, physiology, ecology, and evolutionary history of class Mammalia. Beginning with the evolutionary origin of the first mammals in the Triassic we will follow the adaptive radiation within the group, and the development of increasingly specialized organisms in response to changing climactic and biological conditions. During the final portion of the course, we will examine current theories of hominid evolution and the effects of human dispersal patterns on mammalian biodiversity. Lab work will focus on the identification of North American mammals, but we will also take advantage of other specimens, as they become available. Evaluation based on a series of quizzes, a lab practical, and a term project focusing on one family of mammals. Three hours of lecture/discussion per week plus one three hour lab. Intermediate/Advanced. Biology I & II required, additional courses in ecology and evolution strongly encouraged. PERMISSION OF INSTRUCTOR. Lab Fee $25.00. Offered based on demand. *ES*

ES526Neotropical Conservation Ecology

The neotropics have been at the center of conservation research and policy for more than half a century. In spite of an enormous amount of effort however many issues remain unresolved and debate continues on appropriate strategies for protecting both the vast array of plants and animals present in the region and the livelihood of the peoples dependent on a broad range of agriculture and industry. This class will examine a range of issues dealing with the botany and zoology of Central America with a primary focus on issues affecting conservation strategies and sustainable utilization of the rainforest. Work during the regular term will consist of extensive readings and discussions of the primary literature, with particular attention to the research efforts of pioneers such as Daniel Janzen, Alexander Skutch, etc. This will be followed by a mandatory ten day field trip to the Tirimbina Rainforest reserve in Costa Rica, where students will have the opportunity to conduct their own research on issues of biodiversity, behavior, and ecology. Level: Advanced. Permission of Instructor. Lab fee: $775. *ES* Note: Students who enroll in both Neotropical Conservation Ecology and Applied Amphibian Biology pay a single lab fee.

ES5014Organic Chemistry II

This class will continue to discuss the occurrence and behavior of additional functional groups not covered in Organic Chemistry I. Meeting twice a week, we will work our way through the remainder of the fall text and then apply the material by reading articles from the current literature of environmental organic chemistry. Assessment will be based on keeping up with the reading, class participation, and three take-home problem sets.

Level: Advanced.  Prerequisite:  Organic Chemistry I.  Offered every other year.  Lab fee: $50. Meets the following degree requirements: ES

HS4042Reading the West

The spectacular range of habitats between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Basin and Sonoran Deserts has generated some of the most significant “place based” writing within American literature. In this intensive field-based course students will be required to read a range of materials dealing with key places, people, and events in the western landscape during the summer prior to the formal start of the course. The class will then convene in California and begin a trek eastwards into the Great Basin Desert, south to the Carson/Iceberg Wilderness, Yosemite, the Hetch Hetchy Valley and Mono Lake, and then finally southeastward across the Sonoran desert to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where students and faculty will participate in a conference celebrating the first 50 years of the Wilderness Act. Readings will include work by Muir, Didion, Steinbeck, and Fremont. Evaluation will consist of class participation, a series of essays and journal essays, and a final term paper that will be completed following the end of the field portion of the course.  This course will be integrated with and requires co-enrollment in Ecology and Natural History of the American West, and Wilderness in the West.

Level:  Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites: Permission of instructor; camping/backpacking ability.  Class limit: 9.  Lab fee: $1500.  Meets the following degree requirements: HS

ES3036The History of Natural History

Natural History can be regarded as the oldest "science" -indeed, at one point within the Western canon Natural History WAS science.  Beginning with discussion of early hunter-gatherers, working past Ashurbanipal, King of Kings, Hellenistic Greece, the Roman Empire, and into the herbals and magicians of the Middle Ages, this course will survey the development and eventual fragmentation of Natural History into more specialized branches. Once a foundation has been established, we will engage with the naturalists of the great age of exploration and conquest during the 17th through the 19th centuries, ending with an examination of Natural History's legacy in the rise of modern Ecology.  Course readings will draw heavily on original sources, using translations where appropriate. Towards the end of the term we will discuss the strengths and limitations of inductive and deductive reasoning in science and the implications of the 20th and 21st centuries' increased emphasis on theoretical reasoning.  Students will gain a better sense of Euro-American history overall and of the history of science in particular; the ability to use original sources; understanding of the importance of comparing multiple sources in arriving at historical conclusions and of the importance of recognizing cultural and historical biases in interpretation of information.  Evaluation will be based on class participation and the spoken and written presentation of individually chosen research on a person or topic important to the development of natural history as a science.  ES HY 

Level: Intermediate. Prerequisites: none.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: $100.  Meets the following degree requirements: HY

ES517Tutorial: Science and Ethics

Scientific research has been at the center of many recent debates over issues of ethics, both in terms of the actual practice of science and also in the implications of the outcome of certain types of research. Many of these debates have proved to be highly polarized, with one side arguing that unfettered research is an important ingredient of progress, while other participants call for ever greater "societal" supervision and decision-making over both what is to be studied and how the results of studies are to be interpreted and applied. This tutorial will examine the role of ethics in scientific discourse, both in terms of how scientists see their own practice and how that practice is perceived and examined by other disciplines and society at large. The tutorial is discussion-based with students meeting with the instructor on a weekly basis to discuss extensive readings.

ES4036Wildlife Ecology

This course is intended to complement the overall sequence of classes developed with a focus on the landscape and ecology of the Northeast Creek Watershed and is intended to provide students with practical skills in observation, data collection, analysis and presentation. It is particularly suitable for students wishing to pursue careers in field biology with federal or state agencies or land conservation NGOs. We will examine measures of distribution and abundance in animals and relate these to quantitative and qualitative measures of habitat complexity. Much of this class will be field based. Students will work in teams collecting data on vegetation structure and topography, trapping small mammals and estimating abundance through mark/re-capture techniques, radio telemetry and game cameras. Data will be analyzed using simple statistics including ANOVA, regression analysis, and means-separation tests. Spatial components will be included in an on-going GIS for the watershed region. Readings will come from a text and primary sources. Students should expect to spend significant amounts of time outside of formal class meetings in data collection, analysis and write-up.   Assessment will be based on participation, a number of quizzes, and an end-of term team report/presentation.

Level:  Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisites: Biology and Ecology and permission of the instructor. Critical Zone 1, GIS, Statistics strongly encouraged. Class limit: 10. Lab fee: $50. Meets the following degree requirements: QR ES

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