Nishanta "Nishi" Rajakaruna

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Bio 415 – Biogeography – Once a year; usually Fall Quarter

Course Description

What we currently see in nature is only a snapshot of a constantly varying assortment of plants and animals that are and have been responding to an endless sequence of biotic and abiotic change. Biogeography is the study of plants and animals in space and time and is concerned with the analysis and explanation of patterns of distribution, both local and global, that have taken place in the past and are taking place today. Biogeography is also a predictive science enabling us to predict how biota might behave in the future under a given set of circumstances. As students of biogeography we will attempt to tackle questions such as: Why are there so many different species of animals and plants? Why are some species so common, others so rare? Why do some species show extremely local distributions while others are cosmopolitan? Why are some parts of the world more diverse than others? How have these unique patterns of distribution come about? What are the factors involved in the evolution as well as the extinction of species? & How will climate change influence the future patterns of biodiversity? Evaluations are based on two homework assignments, mid-term and final exams, five short quizzes, a final project presentation, and class participation.  It is expected that students will be actively engaged learners beyond their attendance in regularly scheduled lectures and discussions.  This commitment includes attendance, class participation, individual meetings with the instructor, video viewings, library research, completion of reading assignments, study time, and the synthesis of this work through assignment completion, including a final project and its presentation. Prerequisites BIO 263 or graduate standing in Biological Sciences.

I teach this course Fall or Winter Quarter.


Bot 121 –  General Botany – Every Quarter

Students who complete Botany 121 with a passing grade are expected to have a better understanding of the following:
1. The basics of plant cell and tissue structure and function
2. The correct use of plant names and a basic understanding of botanical nomenclature
3. The anatomically important features of stems, flowers, wood, leaves, roots, and fruits
4. The basic physiology and anatomy of photosynthesis and respiration
5. The importance of plants in human affairs
6. Basic skills of plant identification, plant collection, documentation and herbarium use
7. The basics of plant ecology
8. General experimental and observation skills in botany
9. An appreciation of the natural world and the importance of plants in providing habitat and nourishment
for animals

Fulfills GE B2 & B4

I teach this course 1-2 quarters every year (usually, Fall, Winter).


Bot 311 – Plants, People, and Civilization – Once a year; Fall Quarter

Course Description

From the dawn of human history, plants have played an integral role in human societies across the world.  The course is aimed at generating an appreciation for the myriad uses of plants by human societies, both past and present, locally and globally.  We will explore the use of plants as food and beverages, raw materials, fuel, medicine and psychoactive drugs, spices and perfumes, genetic resources, and for religious and spiritual needs.  The future ecological, economic, and social implications of our dependency on plants will also be discussed in light of current threats to plants and their native habitats, including threats to plant-human relations in traditional societies from around the world.  The important roles played by human societies in maintaining floristic and associated cultural diversity will be a focus of readings, DVD screenings, and discussions.  You will be introduced to the taxonomy of major edible plant families of the world, including Solanaceae (potato family), Poaceae (rice family), Fabaceae (bean family), Brassicaceae (cabbage family), Asteraceae (sunflower family), Lamiaceae (mint family), Apiaceae (carrot family) and Rosaceae (apple family), among others. Evaluations will be based on a mid-term and a final exam, a grocery store scavenger hunt quiz, a mystery plant presentation, a final project involving an oral presentation and short summary paper, lab assignments, and participation in class activities/discussion. Prerequisite: One course from GE Area B2.

I teach this course starting Fall 2019. Course offered every Fall. Taught by myself or Prof. Matt Ritter.


Bio 448 – Geoecology – Once a year; Spring Quarter

NEW Course for 2022-2023!

Course Description

Geoecology is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary science that integrates the geosciences with the life sciences to examine how geologic forces shape biodiversity. Parent materials, climate, topography, and time determine the kind of substrate that becomes available for colonization by biota, and their habitation further influences the nature of the substrate upon which plants grow and animals and microbes dwell. Students will learn how landforms (geomorphology) and lithology (parent material and substrate) influence ecological and evolutionary processes which contribute to both macro- and micro-scale patterns of biogeography here in California and around the world. Topics of discussion will include geology’s role in shaping plant communities, plant-soil relations of insular rock outcrop habitats, ecology and evolution of biota (microbes, lichens, plants, and animals) on unusual geologies, role of climate change and other anthropogenic stressors on the biota of rock outcrops, life on metal-enriched soils, restoration of harsh soils, conservation of rock outcrop plants and their associated biota, and ‘novel’ green technologies such as agromining/phytomining resulting from the study of plants and microbes found on metal-enriched geologies. The course will be suited for students interested in further study and independent research or employment in the fields of ecology, geobotany, plant-soil relations, evolutionary processes in harsh environments, conservation of rare and endemic species, effects of climate change on insular communities, restoration of contaminated landscapes, and green technologies such as phytoremediation and phytomining. Pre-requisites (one or more of these classes): a background in ecology, evolution, soil science, geology


Bio 591 – Trends in Biology – Offered every quarter


For courses taught in the past see here.

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