Skip to main content
Sign In

University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Biology Logo

Faculty & Staff Directory

Laurel Hartley, Ph.D.

Dr. Laurel Hartley

Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology

Office Location: SI 4124 A
Phone: (303) 556-6251
Fax: (303) 556-4352
2015 Spring Semester Office Hours:


Areas of Expertise:
Ecology and Science Education


Education & Degrees 

Ph.D., Ecology, Colorado State University

M.S., Biology, Colorado State University

B.S., Biology, Southwestern University


My training, experience, and interests are in the fields of science education and ecology. I hold a Ph.D. in Ecology from Colorado State University. My dissertation focused on the indirect effects of bubonic plague in prairie dogs on plant communities and ecosystem function in Colorado. I received additional experience and training in science education through a post-doctoral position at Michigan State University and a position in exhibit development at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I was hired at UC Denver in 2008 primarily as a biology education researcher, and the majority of my current work is in that field. However, I also conduct research in ecology because it informs my teaching and my science education research, much of which focuses on student understanding of content related to ecology. I am pleased to be part of a growing national cadre of “science faculty with education specialties” and plan to continue to pursue both lines of research throughout my career.


My science education research interests are concerned with assessing and improving how students understand biological concepts and apply scientific principles, especially concepts and principles related to ecology. I work at both the undergraduate and grades 6-12 levels. My approach to this research employs both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis methods. I enjoy working on large-scale, multi-faceted collaborative projects that seek to answer transformative and often complicated research questions. Thus, some of the projects I work on involve many collaborators from across the country. My goals as a science education researcher are to make discoveries that can be used for improving pedagogy and assessment in undergraduate biology education and for informing the development of national science standards and practices for K-12 education.  My current research questions are:

  1. What is the current state of environmental literacy in our nation and how can learning progressions be developed and used to support grades 6-12 environmental literacy?

  2. How can we assess and improve undergraduate students’ use of principle-based reasoning about the carbon cycle in introductory biology and ecology courses?

  3. How can data-rich curricula improve undergraduate data literacy and ecological literacy?


My ecological research bridges community and ecosystem ecology to explore how plant communities and soils respond to external factors such as intensive herbivory, nutrient inputs, emerging infectious diseases, and climate change. The model system that I work on has shaped and integrated the questions that I pursue. I study both urban and rural black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) communities. Prairie dogs have been historically important influences on the ecology of the Great Plains of the United States and have had considerable effects on the cattle ranching industry over the last century. The role of prairie dogs in the West has changed over the past 70 years with the introduction of bubonic plague and with increasing urbanization of prairie dog habitat. I investigate issues that have management or conservation importance in addition to theoretical and conceptual importance. My field research involves mostly observational studies across space and time gradients. I conduct greenhouse experiments to further explore the mechanisms underlying the broad patterns I observe in the field. Much of my research is situated in and around urban Denver, making it easily accessible to UC Denver student researchers.  The research questions currently my focus are:

  1. Do global change factors (urbanization, extended growing season length, increased nitrogen deposition, and introduction of non-native plants) interact with prairie dog grazing to result in novel plant communities that lead to ecosystem transformation?

  2. How does introduced bubonic plague in prairie dogs influence plant communities and ecosystem processes?


Current Grant-Funded Projects


National Science Foundation (Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program) – Promoting Undergraduate Licensure in Science Education, ($1,119,996), Co-PI


National Science Foundation (Ecosystem Science) – Ecosystem transformations along the Colorado Front Range: Prairie dog interactions with multiple components of global environmental change ($851,000), Co-PI


University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – Advancing Curricula and Teaching Grant: Developing a Learning Assistant Program to Promote Learning in Large Introductory Science Courses ($3500), PI


National Science Foundation (Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement) - Bringing
a Field Station to the Classroom ($249,294), Co-PI


National Science Foundation (Math Science Partnership) - Targeted Partnership: Culturally relevant ecology, learning progressions and environmental literacy ($12,498,243) – co- leader of one of three research strands.


Select Publications 

D’Avanzo, C., C.W. Anderson, L. M. Hartley, and N. Paleaz.  In Press. A faculty development model for transforming introductory biology and ecology courses.  BioScience.


Hartley, L.M., J. Momsen, A. Maskiewicz, and C. D’avanzo.  In Press. Energy and Matter:  
Differenes in discourse can be confusing for introductory biology students. 


Savage, L.T., R. Reich, L.M. Hartley, P. Stapp, and M.F. Antolin. In Press. Climate, soils, and connectivity predict plague epizootics in black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus). Ecological Applications.


Doherty, J., C. Harris, and L. Hartley. 2011. Using stream leaf packs to explore community assembly.  Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology.


Hartley, L.M., B.J. Wilke, J.W. Schramm, C.A. Anderson, and C. D’Avanzo. 2011. College Students’ Understanding of the Carbon Cycle: Contrasting Principle-Based and Informal Reasoning. BioScience. 61:65-75.


Hartley, L. M., J. K. Detling, and L.T. Savage. 2009. Introduced plague lessens the effects of an herbivorous rodent on grassland plant communities. 
Journal of Applied Ecology 46:861-869.


Courses Taught 

BIOL 2061: General Biology II

BIOL 4053/5053: Disease Ecology

BIOL 3413: Ecology Laboratory

BIOL 4052/5052: Advanced Ecology