students in life vests standing on a platform in a lake


About the Course

Dates: TBA for 2023

What To Expect

Limnology is the study of inland waters: lakes, rivers and wetlands. Wetzel (2001) defines limnology as “the study of structural and functional interrelationships of organisms of inland waters as they are affected by their dynamic physical, chemical and biotic environment”.

For this class, we will provide students with an introduction to lake communities and the physical and chemical properties of their environment. Rivers and wetlands will be covered only briefly, but students may choose to do their independent projects on these systems. Topics covered during the class will include the watershed and its hydrology; fluxes of nutrients and materials to and within lakes; the pelagial and littoral zones and their dynamics; sediments and paleolimnology, and the structure and dynamics of major plant and animal communities. Interwoven will be lectures on eutrophication and heavy metal pollution.


The course is open to all students who have taken Biology of Organisms (BIOL 206 or equivalent), Ecology and Evolution (BIOL 215) or their equivalents.


This is a 3 credit course consisting of 1 hour lectures twice a week and 2 weekend field trips. Marks are allocated in the following proportions: midterm (20%), final exam (35%), field project proposal (10%), field project oral report (30%), field participation (5%).


There are two mandatory weekend field trips in this course (in lieu of a lab). All students must attend the field trips on Sept. 27-29 and Oct. 18-20, 2019 which will start at 5 pm on Friday and end at 5 pm on Sunday. A fee of $332.72 will be charged to your Minerva account to cover the accommodation and transportation costs. This course cost is in addition to the regular course fee scheduled by McGill University. As a final requirement, students must be able to swim, as we will spend a fair amount of time working off of boats.

Only register if you

  1. Have the prerequisites (or permission of the instructor).
  2. Will be able to pay $332.72.
  3. Can attend the field weekends on September 27-29 and October 18-20.
  4. Are an able swimmer.

Lectures and Readings

Lecture Topics

  1. General introduction to lakes and lake types.
  2. The diversity of life in lakes.
  3. The hydrological cycle and lake watersheds.
  4. Water properties, heat and stratification.
  5. Water movements and oxygen in lakes.
  6. Major ions, conductivity and salinity.
  7. The phosphorus cycle and redox conditions.
  8. Carbon dynamics in lakes and pH.
  9. The nitrogen cycle, micronutrients and stoichiometry.
  10. Algae: diversity and factors controlling abundance and community composition.
  11. Zooplankton: diversity and factors controlling abundance and community composition.
  12. Trophic cascades and biomanipulations.
  13. Diversity and functioning of the littoral zone in lakes.
  14. Stream and river ecology.
  15. Experimental approaches for studying population and community dynamics in lakes.
  16. Paleolimnology: approaches and applications.
  17. Water use, distributions and climatic change.
  18. Eutrophication.
  19. Acidification and other atmospheric pollutants.


Recommended Readings

Inland Water Ecosystems: a textbook of Limnology by J. Kalff (Prentice-Hall, 2001).

Reserve Readings

  1. Limnology by R.G. Wetzel (Academic Press, 2007).
  2. Limnoecology: The Ecology of Lakes and Streams by W. Lampert and U. Sommer, 2nd Edition (Oxford University Press, 2007).
  3. Limnological Analyses by R.G. Wetzel and G.E Likens (Springer-Verlag, 2000).

Field Trip Information

Two Weekend Field Trips

Limnology is a field-oriented science and to capture this, we will be running two field trips (in lieu of labs at the Stewart Biology building). The field trips will be held at McGill's Gault Nature Reserve. The station is about ~1.5 hrs drive east of Montreal. We will have the opportunity to study lakes (Lac Hertel) and ponds on and outside the Reserve. Students will be housed in dormitories on site and meals will be provided by the station. All meals will be vegetarian, but students need to notify Dr. Gregor Fussmann about other food restrictions early in September. Because we will be spending a fair amount of time on the water, we require that all students have the ability to swim. In addition, lifejackets must be worn when out on boats or working in or close to water.

Purpose of the Field Trips

The focus of the first field trip will be to introduce students to some of the equipment and the practical aspects of doing limnology in the field. Over the course of the weekend, students will collect data characterizing the physical, chemical and biological structure of two lakes at the station and the data will be discussed in class. For the second weekend, the students will work in groups and develop their own research project. A short proposal and equipment list will be required one week before the second field trip. Towards the end of the course, student teams will be expected to give an in-class oral presentation outlining their study objectives, methods, results and discussion.

What To Bring

Boots, rain jacket, warm sweater, hat, gloves, towel, sleeping bag, flashlight or headlamp, notepad, pen and pencil.
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