4DEE Framework

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About the Framework

The four dimensions of the framework collectively contain 21 general topics (termed “elements”).  The dimension of Core Ecological Concepts follows the widely recognized hierarchy of ecology presented in most ecology textbooks, including individuals, populations, communities, ecosystems, landscapes, biomes and biosphere.  Ecology Practices include approaches and methods used in doing ecology, e.g. natural history, fieldwork, quantitative reasoning, computational thinking, designing and critiquing investigations, and collaboration.  Human-Environment Interactions include dependence on the environment, human-accelerated environmental change, how humans can use ecological systems to shape and manage resources/ecosystems/the environment, ethical dimensions and communicating and applying ecology.  Cross-Cutting Themes include structure & function, pathways & transformations of matter and energy, systems, and spatial & temporal scales and processes (including evolution). Integration across the dimensions is a hallmark of the framework. The ultimate goal is for the four dimensions to be taught as integrated units, courses, and curricula.

ESA’s 4DEE Framework is a dynamic set of ideas that must be revisited and revised periodically.  It is not a mandate, but rather provides a set of recommendations for ecology curricula. The framework can be used both as a benchmark for instructors currently teaching undergraduate General Ecology and as a guide for instructors developing new courses. We look forward to learning with the community of ecology educators about how the framework is useful and brought to life through a diversity of approaches to teaching and learning.

The  Four Dimensional Ecology Education (4DEE) Framework

Updated July 2018

I. Core Ecological Concepts

1. Organisms 
2. Populations
3. Communities
4. Ecosystems
5. Landscapes
6. Biomes
7. Biosphere


II. Ecology Practices

1. Natural history approach
2. Fieldwork
3. Quantitative reasoning and computational thinking
4. Designing and critiquing investigations
5. Working collaboratively
6. Communicating and applying ecology


III. Human-Environment Interactions

1. Human dependence on the environment
2. Human accelerated environmental change
3. How humans can shape and manage resources/ecosystems/the environment
4. Critical thinking about the values underlying environmental problems, challenges and opportunities


IV. Cross-Cutting themes

1. Structure & function
2. Pathways & transformations of matter and energy
3. Systems
4. Space & time – Evolution, scale, stability and change, biogeography