Foundation Species

Foundation species change in coastal habitats

Syllabus for fall semester of 2019

Updated 7/26/2019

1. Time. The class will be held on Friday 4-5 pm Eastern Time. The first day of class will be August 23 and the last day November 22 (or maybe December 6, TBD).

2. Contacts. The course is being organized by Steven Pennings at the University of Houston. Email, Telephone 713 743 2989. The course is being offered for credit at the University of Houston and at the following additional institutions. Enrolling in these courses may involve additional course work beyond the weekly internet lecture. See the bottom of the syllabus for instructions about logging in and taking the course for credit.

Institution Course number and instructors

Boston UnivES543, September only, Sergio Fagherazzi

Boston UnivXXX, October only, Alyssa Novak and Zoe Hughes

Coastal Carolina UnivXXX, X credits, Richard Peterson (tentative)

Florida International UnivBSC 6926, 1 credit, Andrea Nocentini

Texas A&M GalvestonMARB 681-602, 1 credit, Anna Armitage

Univ of AlabamaBSC 695-954, 1 credit, Julia Cherry

Univ of California, Los AngelesXXX, X credits, Kyle Cavanaugh

Univ of FloridaXXX, X credits, Christine Angelini(tentative)

Univ of GeorgiaECOL 8990, 2 credits, Jeb Byers

Univ of HoustonBIOL 4197 and 6197, 1 credit, Steven Pennings

Univ of New OrleansXXX, X credits, Ioannis Georgiou

Univ of VirginaEVEC 5559, 1 credit, Linda Blum and Karen McGlathery

3. Course content

Coastal habitats are often dominated by one or a few “foundation species” that dominate and drive most ecological processes in the habitat. Given various global changes, which (if any) foundation species is present at a site may change. This is expected to have significant consequences for ecological function at that site. This course will provide a unique opportunity to learn from experts in the field distributed across multiple universities. Speakers will discuss the topic from various perspectives. Course content will be delivered live over the internet.

The course web site is at


Schedule of lectures

August 23. Allyson Degrassi. Shenandoah University. Introduction to the Foundation Species concept.

August 30. Edward Castaneda, Florida International University. Extreme events and foundation species change.

September 6. Steven Pennings, University of Houston. Coastal geomorphic effects of shifting from mangrove to salt marsh vegetation.

September 13. Michael Osland, USGS. Global change and changes in coastal foundation species distributions. (could also do Sept 20 or Oct 11).

September 20. Evelyn Gaiser or Luca Marazzi, Florida International University, foundation algae.

September 27. John Kominoski, Florida International University. Consequences of foundation species shifts for organic matter and biogeochemistry in coastal wetlands and forested streams.

October 4. Jeb Byers, University of Georgia. Ecosystem change driven by Gracilaria invasion of southeastern US mudflats.

October 11. Debra Peters, USDA. Greening of the desert: causes of grass expansion in desertified shrublands.

October 18. Kyle Cavanaugh, University of California, Los Angeles. Effects of climate variability and change on giant kelp forests.

October 25. Dennis Whigham, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Phragmites invasions, causes andconsequences.

November 1. Andrew Altieri, University of Florida, Consumers and phase shifts in coral reefs.

November 8. TBD

November 15. Max Castorani, University of Virginia, effect of giant kelp loss on kelp forest communities.

November 22. Keryn Gedan, George Washington University, marsh transgression into upland habitats.

November 29. Thanksgiving Holiday; no class.

December 6 (TBD)


4. How to participate

If you wish to take this course for credit, you need to enroll in one of the courses listed above or arrange a “special topics” course with a willing instructor at your home institution. If you simply wish to sit in on the lectures, you are welcome to do so without formally enrolling.  In either case, please email the course organizer, Dr. Andrea Nocentini ( so that he can add you to the email list for course-related announcements. All you’ll need to participate is a computer with a high-speed connection to the internet.

A link to join the lecture will be posted each week on the course web site.

We will make many of the lectures available on the course website as recordings, so that you can view them at a later date.Information will be posted on the course web site.


Expectations for enrolled FIU students:
Students will (1) participate in weekly seminars and discussions, (2) lead one discussion based on one of the 14 lectures, and (3) write a two-page summary of the lecture. Successful discussion leadership will involve asking questions and facilitating a balanced discussion where all voices are heard. The two-page summaries, due the week after the presentation, should succinctly summarize the topic of the previous week’s seminar. They should reference appropriate historical and contemporary literature and include a reference section and one key figure (with legend) illustrating a case study example (included in the two page limit). These will be distributed to students throughout the semester and we will discuss potential publication of the case studies. Students will be graded on their attendance (all absences must be excused), participation, facilitation of discussion and the clarity, content and conciseness of the written document.

Course Objectives: Students will learn 1) the basic principles of foundation species theory, 2) global changes that are influencing the distribution of foundation species, 3) consequences of global changes in foundation species on coastal habitats.

Location (FIU students): GC-283B (MMC)