Seminar on Computational Sustainability: Algorithms for Ecology and Conservation

CS 691SU
UMass Amherst
Spring 2014


Ecosystems across the globe under threat. Defining good conservation policies is difficult because many aspects of ecosystems and our impacts on them are poorly understood. However, new data resources are emerging that can help us understand and manage ecosystems more effecitively, if we can develop the algorithms to understand and use this data well. For example, some algorithmic problems in ecology include: where to place sensors, how to fit models of complex ecological such as bird migration from noisy and incomplete data, and where to place wildlife reserves or corridors to maximize the benefits to threatened species.

CS 691SU is a seminar-style course where students will read and discuss recent papers at the intersection of CS and ecology, with a focus on novel work in machine learning, AI, and discrete optimization. The instructor will also present open problems, data resources, and research ideas. Students taking the course for three credits will complete a project or extended survey.

Prerequisites: One of CS 611, CS 688, or CS 689; or permssion of the instructor.

Format: Each meeting will cover 2-3 (typically 2) papers on a topic at the intersection of CS and ecology, which are required reading for all participants. Some topics will also have optional related papers. Each meeting, two seminar participants will lead a discussion about the assigned readings. The two discussion leaders should contribute equally, but they may split the work however they want. See below for presentation guidelines.


Presentation Guidelines

Plan to spend about 45 minutes per paper. Your presentation should first give an overview of the work and then lead into a discussion. It should include the elements described under the bullet point "Make sure your presentation has the following elements" here. It is OK if you want to use the whiteboard for part of your presentation, but I highly recommend that you prepare at least a few introductory slides to clearly organize and motivate the work. You are welcome to excerpt figures from the paper or use slides that you find online, but it is crucial that you fully prepare a presentation tailored to this seminar, which will almost always mean using a few figures and slides, but not using a slide deck wholesale without modification.

Each team should arrange to consult with me prior to their presentation (note: I am available on Friday afternoons and Mondays) to review their plan.