New Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity major at Temple University

Dr. Sewall assisted the development of a new major in Temple University’s Department of Biology, and serves as its Faculty Advisor.  The new major, launching in fall of 2021, leads to a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity (EEB).  Study in EEB prepares students for rigorous advanced study in these fields and subsequent careers in academic, governmental or nongovernmental research institutions. The bachelor’s program develops ecology, evolution and biodiversity scientists who will advance policy and research on our most pressing issues like climate change and sustainability.


Recent and Current University Courses Taught by Dr. Sewall

Field Research in Community Ecology (Undergraduate & graduate sections)

Many fundamental advances in community ecology have emerged from creative, well-designed field studies in natural ecosystems.  Field research is therefore a cornerstone of contemporary community ecology, though many students do not gain significant experience in the methods and techniques, strategies and goals of field research until after graduation.

This field course guides students through the experience of conducting independent research in community ecology.  We use an inquiry-based approach to learn about theory and methodology of community ecology, as well as the natural history of our local ecosystems.  Through this summer course taught at Temple’s Ambler Campus, students gain hands-on experience designing and conducting field research in community ecology.  While some activities will be in a classroom, most activities will be held outdoors, in the natural environments around Ambler Campus.


Conservation Biology (Undergraduate & graduate sections)

The Earth harbors an incredible diversity of species and communities, most still poorly understood by science.  This biodiversity is essential to the functioning of natural ecosystems and provides a wide array of priceless services to people today and a treasure of benefits for the future.  Yet human threats to biodiversity have led us to the brink of the sixth major extinction event in Earth’s history.  This loss of biodiversity, as E.O. Wilson put it, “is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”

Which populations, species, communities, and ecoregions are most diverse?  What is the contribution of biodiversity to human livelihoods?  Which elements of biodiversity are most threatened, and by which human activities?  What does the science suggest is needed to conserve biodiversity?  How might this best be done given social, economic, and political realities?  We examine all these questions and more in this course, focusing on the key principles of conservation biology and the application of those principles to local, national, and international examples.


Animal Behavior (Undergraduate & graduate sections)

Animals exhibit a wide diversity of behaviors that enable successful feeding, habitat selection, navigation, communication, social interactions, reproduction, and rearing of young.  Why do animals behave in these ways, and why do animals differ in their behaviors?

In this course, we investigate the proximate (neurological and developmental) and ultimate (functional and evolutionary) explanations for these behaviors.  We study how ecological and evolutionary processes shape animal behavior.  We study classic theories and major principles of animal behavior, weighing the experimental and observational evidence for each idea.  We illustrate concepts with examples from a wide range of taxonomic groups of animals in diverse ecosystems.  We also discuss some emerging theories in animal behavior, some of which are surprising or counterintuitive.  We conclude with applications of animal behavior for conservation and human behavior.


Past University Courses Taught by Dr. Sewall

Disease Ecology
Climate Change and Forests
Wildlife Ecology
Research Design and Scientific Writing
Conservation Biology Lab
Public Policy Analysis
Problem-Solving in Fisheries and Wildlife
Governance of Genetic Engineering
Graduate Seminar in Ecology and Evolution


Research on science education

Dr. Sewall is currently investigating factors associated with successful science education and science outreach efforts.  This collaborative research focuses on two main areas:  (1) evaluation of the impact of various contextual and behavioral variables on outcomes of science education in informal educational settings, and (2) barriers to higher education in the sciences in developing countries.

Example publications:

Kirchgessner, M. L. and B. J. Sewall, 2015.  The impact of environmental, social and animal factors on visitor viewing behaviors at big cat exhibits.  Visitor Studies 18: 150-167.

Kirchgessner & Sewall 2015 Visitor Studies – Visitor stay times at big cat exhibits

Wills et al. 2014 Global Education Review.  Barriers to student success in Madagascar.  The pdf is available here:

Wills et al 2014 GER Barriers to student success in Madagascar .

Trewhella et al. 2005 Conservation Biology.  Environmental education in multidisciplinary conservation programmes.  The pdf is available here:

Trewhella_et_al_2005_Cons_Bio_Env_ed_cons_Pteropus .

(The definitive version of this article is available here.)


Curriculum development for environmental education in sub-Saharan Africa

Dr. Sewall co-led a collaborative process in Benin (West Africa) with Beninese teachers to integrate environmental issues and potential solutions into the national primary and secondary school curricula in Benin. This effort resulted in the training of dozens of Beninese teachers, the development of the first environmental education guide for teachers in Benin, and the establishment of environmental education in the national curriculum for primary school students in Benin.