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  1. Ecologists are increasingly using macrosystems approaches to understand population, community, and ecosystem dynamics across interconnected spatial and temporal scales. Consequently, integrating macrosystems skills, including simulation modeling and sensor data analysis, into undergraduate and graduate curricula is needed to train future environmental biologists. Through the Macrosystems EDDIE (Environmental Data-Driven Inquiry and Exploration) program, we developed four teaching modules to introduce macrosystems ecology to ecology and biology students. Modules combine high-frequency sensor data from GLEON (Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network) and NEON (National Ecological Observatory Network) sites with ecosystem simulation models. Pre- and post-module assessments of 319 students across 24 classrooms indicate that hands-on, inquiry-based modules increase students’ understanding of macrosystems ecology, including complex processes that occur across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Following module use, students were more likely to correctly define macrosystems concepts, interpret complex data visualizations and apply macrosystems approaches in new contexts. In addition, there was an increase in student’s self-perceived proficiency and confidence using both long-term and high-frequency data; key macrosystems ecology techniques. Our results suggest that integrating short (1–3 h) macrosystems activities into ecology courses can improve students’ ability to interpret complex and non-linear ecological processes. In addition, our study serves as one of the first documented instances for directly incorporating concepts in macrosystems ecology into undergraduate and graduate ecology and biology curricula. 
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  2. Abstract There is a clear demand for quantitative literacy in the life sciences, necessitating competent instructors in higher education. However, not all instructors are versed in data science skills or research-based teaching practices. We surveyed biological and environmental science instructors (n = 106) about the teaching of data science in higher education, identifying instructor needs and illuminating barriers to instruction. Our results indicate that instructors use, teach, and view data management, analysis, and visualization as important data science skills. Coding, modeling, and reproducibility were less valued by the instructors, although this differed according to institution type and career stage. The greatest barriers were instructor and student background and space in the curriculum. The instructors were most interested in training on how to teach coding and data analysis. Our study provides an important window into how data science is taught in higher education biology programs and how we can best move forward to empower instructors across disciplines. 
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  4. Abstract

    Numerous mutualisms have been described from terrestrial and marine communities and many of these mutualisms have significant effects on community structure and function. In contrast, there are far fewer examples of mutualisms from freshwater habitats and there is no evidence that any mutualism has community‐wide or ecosystem‐level consequences. Northern hemisphere crayfish are host to a variety of ectosymbiotic worms called branchiobdellidans. The association between some of these “crayfish worms” and their hosts is a mutualism. The outcome of the association is context dependent and can be influenced by host size, symbiont number, and the environment. Here we document in two experiments that the mutualism between crayfish and these worms alters the effect of crayfish on stream community structure and sediment deposition, an important ecosystem variable. We enclosed crayfish stocked with 0 worms and intermediate (3–6) and high worm densities (12) in cages in streams in Boone, North Carolina and Clemson, South Carolina, United States. At both locations, there was a negative relationship between initial worm density and final macroinvertebrate abundance. There was a significant effect of worm treatment on macroinvertebrate community structure in both the Boone and Clemson experiments. In Boone, there were effects on both overall macroinvertebrate abundance and community composition, whereas in Clemson, changes to community structure were primarily driven by changes in total abundance. There was a negative relationship between benthic sediment volume and initial worm density in both experiments, primarily later in the experiments, though these effects were influenced by sediment deposition rates. Our results are the first to demonstrate strong effects of a mutualism on freshwater communities. Both members of this mutualism are found throughout the northern hemisphere, so similar impacts may occur in many other waterways. Given that various species in addition to crayfish function as keystone species and ecosystem engineers in freshwater systems throughout the world, mutualisms involving these strongly interacting species may be as important to the structure and functioning of freshwater systems as comparable mutualisms in marine and terrestrial systems.

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  5. Abstract

    Simulation models are increasingly used by ecologists to study complex, ecosystem‐scale phenomena, but integrating ecosystem simulation modeling into ecology undergraduate and graduate curricula remains rare. Engaging ecology students with ecosystem simulation models may enable students to conduct hypothesis‐driven scientific inquiry while also promoting their use of systems thinking, but it remains unknown how using hands‐on modeling activities in the classroom affects student learning. Here, we developed short (3‐hr) teaching modules as part of the Macrosystems EDDIE (Environmental Data‐Driven Inquiry & Exploration) program that engage students with hands‐on ecosystem modeling in the R statistical environment. We embedded the modules into in‐person ecology courses at 17 colleges and universities and assessed student perceptions of their proficiency and confidence before and after working with models. Across all 277 undergraduate and graduate students who participated in our study, completing one Macrosystems EDDIE teaching module significantly increased students' self‐reported proficiency, confidence, and likely future use of simulation models, as well as their perceived knowledge of ecosystem simulation models. Further, students were significantly more likely to describe that an important benefit of ecosystem models was their “ease of use” after completing a module. Interestingly, students were significantly more likely to provide evidence of systems thinking in their assessment responses about the benefits of ecosystem models after completing a module, suggesting that these hands‐on ecosystem modeling activities may increase students’ awareness of how individual components interact to affect system‐level dynamics. Overall, Macrosystems EDDIE modules help students gain confidence in their ability to use ecosystem models and provide a useful method for ecology educators to introduce undergraduate and graduate students to ecosystem simulation modeling using in‐person, hybrid, or virtual modes of instruction.

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