TA Sample Study Questions

These are by no means a complete guide, but just a few practice possibilities.

Compare and Contrasts:

The following compare and contrasts examples are designed to help you study for the definition and compare and contrast portions on the final exam. Do not restrict your studying to just these examples, for you will need to study larger, more integrative concepts as well.

When you answer compare and contrast questions on the exam, remember to do the following: 1.) define each term separately, 2.) explain how the terms are different from each other, and 3.) give a biological example for each term.


  1. Resistence vs. Resilience
  2. Individual vs. Population vs. Community
  3. Dispersion vs. Dispersal
  4. Fundamental vs. Realized Niche
  5. Gleasonís Individualistic vs. Clementís Interactive Community Concepts
  6. Asymmetrical vs. Symmetrical Species Interactions
  7. Mutualism vs. Commensalim
  8. Primary vs. Secondary Succession
  9. Facilitation vs. Inhibition vs. Disturbance Succession Models
  10. Resource vs. Condition
  11. Gross Primary Productivity vs. Net Primary Productivity
  12. Intra- vs. Inter-Specific Competition
  13. Realized vs. Potential Unlimited Growth
  14. Exponential vs. Logistic Growth
  15. r- vs. K- Selection Models
  16. Conformer vs. Regulator
  17. Semelparity vs. Iteroparity
  18. Overshoot vs. Undershoot
  19. Density-dependence vs. Density-independence
  20. Absolute vs. Relative Density
  21. Uniform vs. Random vs. Clumped Dispersions
  22. Adaptive Radiation vs. Extinctions
  23. Abiotic vs. Biotic Factors
  24. Tolerance Response Curve vs. Energy Cost Curves
  25. Flow vs. Cycle
  26. Productivity vs. Biomass
  27. Density-dependent vs. Age-dependent
  28. Coarse- vs. Fine-grained Environments
  29. Solitary vs. Colonial
  30. Vicarience vs. Dispersal



Buzz words: climax community, sere (or seral stage), endemic, all of the various biome types (tundra, taiga, savannah, etc.), methods of measuring or quantifying traits (transects, quadrats, etc.), climate stuff.


Example Short Essay Questions:

Hints: be very thorough in your answer and be sure, when at all possible, to include both ecological and evolutionary aspects of the question.


  1. Explain the concept of a biome and discuss what factors are responsible for creating them.
  2. Can competitive exclusion lead to speciation? Explain by what processes this might occur. Give examples.
  3. Describe the intermediate disturbance hypothesis: why is there a certain level of species diversity at low disturbance? At high disturbance? At mid levels? Give an example of a disturbance and a measure of disturbance. Briefly relate this hypothesis to succession.
  4. List the stages of nutrient cycles? Use one nutrient as an example and explain how you would measure this nutrient in each stage? Also explain what the duration of residency of that nutrient in each stage, and compare this duration to other nutrients. Would you expect the levels of flow of this nutrient to change in different habitats?
  5. Give both ecological and evolutionary explanations for the adaptive radiations and mass extinctions observed in the fossil record. What biases might there be in this record?
  6. Describe population growth relating the most simplistic models to the most complex models. Be sure to explain the differences between the models. Compare diagrams the growth rates you would expect to see if you measure populations of lab reared bacteria and deer in the Santa Cruz mountains. Explain what factors contribute to the differences you observe.