2011-12 Catalog

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Offering Description

Field and Laboratory Biology in Southwestern Ecosystems


Spring 2012 quarter

Dylan Fischer forest ecology , Clarissa Dirks biology
Fields of Study
biology, botany, ecology, field studies and zoology
Preparatory for studies or careers in
ecology, biology, botany, zoology, microbial ecology and environmental science.

The southwestern U.S. is unique in the diversity of habitats that can occur along with dramatic temperature and moisture gradients. Major advances in ecology have been made in these extreme environments, and important work in global change biology is currently being conducted in these systems. This program will use field sites in the Desert Southwest as living laboratories for investigating patterns in ecology, biology, microbiology and evolution. Students will learn about arid environments, plant ecology, field biology, and gain specialized training in microbiology or plant molecular genetics. Students will co-design field projects exploring ecological and co-evolutionary relationships at organism and molecular scales.

We will use detailed studies of southwestern cottonwood trees and tardigrades (water-bears) as examples that will let us dive deeply into laboratory and field experiments.  We will pair those investigations with broader exploration of southwestern environments to learn about multiple ecosystems and organisms. Early in the program, students will learn to conduct DNS analyses on plants and microscope-based identification of microscopic animals called tardigrades (water-bears).  All students will participate in a mandatory two-week field ecology module where they will participate in a major research project examining the effects of desert-tree genetic diversity on ecosystems, learn to identify plant species of the Southwest, keep detailed field journals, conduct research projects, and survey isolated canyons for patterns related to evolutionary history.  Along the way, we will visit environmental and culturally significant sites in the Southwest, from cactus forests to canyons and mountain peaks. Finally, at the end of the quarter all students will reconvene for a program conference where students will present their research over the quarter.

Our reading list will include major natural history texts related to the Southwest and evolutionary relationships for the organisms we find there. We will emphasize active participation in the scientific process and communication skills. Because of the field component of this program, students should be prepared for extensive time living and working in the field, and should be committed to working through conflicts in group dynamics.

Online Learning
Enhanced Online Learning
Greener Store
Required Fees
$400 for a four-week field trip in the Southwest.
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
February 16th, 2012 Description and fee updated.
April 14th, 2011 Jack Longino has left the teaching team.