Course Offerings


Innovation, Intelligence, and Extinction: The Emerging Web of Life

Imagine life’s diversity—tree frogs perched high in the canopy of a tropical forest, orchids that mimic the scent of female wasps, or tiny archaeans buried deep within volcanic vents at 200° F.  Whether in Madagascar, Hawai’i, or on the slopes of Oregon’s Mt. Hood, life’s mosaic inspires and fascinates all—poets, naturalists, musicians, and scientists. We will critique a rich tapestry of writings, books, and artistry as we study the remarkable innovations that trigger new radiations of species, the processes that generate novelty, and the events that lead to extinction. We’ll hike through majestic forests that sustain Oregon’s hotspots of coastal diversity, and later bury our boots in refurbished wetlands to decipher firsthand the ecological services provided by natural landscapes. We will question our roles as sapient beings still new to earth: What can natural cycles of destruction and renewal teach us about how we might live our lives? Can we influence patterns of global change in this emerging web of life? Will we leave behind just a thin layer of fossils, as writer Lewis Thomas warned, or will we be inspired instead by the poet-scientist Goethe, who declared, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it”?

Susan Kephart

Course taught by

Susan Kephart