Stephen Ressel

Stephen Ressel
207-801-5723 |

steve resselSteve Ressel received a B.S. in Secondary Education with a major in biology from Millersville University in 1976, a M.S. in Zoology from the University of Vermont in 1987, and a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in 1993. As a graduate student, Steve received numerous awards in recognition of his research and an award for outstanding teaching at UCONN. Prior to graduate school, Steve taught junior high biology in Pennsylvania. Steve joined the faculty and administration at COA in 1993, where he directs the colleges natural history museum and teaches courses in the areas of vertebrate biology, physiological ecology, herpetology, winter ecology, and biological photography. As museum director, Steve works extensively with students interested in museum exhibit design, museum collection care, and informal education. Student projects under Steve's direction include: ecological research on anuran, snake, and turtle populations in Acadia National Park and surrounding areas; photographic exhibitions; curriculum design for informal and formal education units in the biological sciences.

Steve's research has focused on sexual selection in relation to parasite load in lizards, the role of secondary compounds in diet selection of an herbivorous lizard, and the interrelationships between calling effort, temperature, and muscle physiology in male frogs. Steve has traveled extensively throughout the U.S., the Caribbean, and Central America for his research, and has published in Oecologia, Copeia, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, and Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Steve's photographs have appeared in Maine Amphibians and Reptile. He serves as a grant reviewer for the Institute of Museum and Library Services and is an active member of the New England Museum Association and the American Association of Museums.

Steve enjoys winter hiking and camping, ice hockey, catching frogs with his kids, and The Beatles.

B.S. Millersville University, 1976
M.S. University of Vermont, 1987
Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, 1993

Courses Taught

ES525Applied Amphibian Biology

Most amphibians are small vertebrates that require moist microhabitats and/or unrestricted access to fresh water to sustain their populations. Despite their diminutive size, need for moisture, and cryptic habits, the 6000+ species of extant amphibians are found on all continents except Antarctica and are extremely diverse in their morphology, ecology, and behavior. Amphibian diversity peaks in tropical regions but salamanders are thought to be the numerically dominant vertebrate species in mature forest habitats of the eastern US. Because their combined numbers represent a significant amount of living biomass, amphibians are increasingly being used as bio-indicators to assess the ecological health of natural communities. Worldwide declines in anuran populations are well documented but the underlying cause(s) of these declines are still not fully known nor is the impact of these losses on the short- and long-term stability of the environments in which they live. In this course, students will examine amphibians native to Maine and to Costa Rica in order to compare and contrast the life history, ecology, and conservation of temperate and tropical species. Coursework during the regular term will focus on current field methods and data analysis used to assess species abundance and distribution through readings and field work, with the first half of the term devoted to Maine species and the latter half examining neotropical species. This will be followed by a mandatory 10-day field trip to Tirimbina Rainforest reserve in Costa Rica, where students will conduct their own field study on a topic relevant to the course. Level: Advanced. Permission of Instructor. Lab Fee $775 (Note: students who enroll in both Applied Amphibian Biology and Neotropical Conservation Ecology pay a single lab fee). *ES*

MD3010Biology Through the Lens

Photography is one of the primary means through which scientific observation and research is conducted and presented to the public.  The most provocative images of the natural world don't just happen; they are made by individuals skilled in both photography and the life sciences.  In this course, students will develop technical, observational, and aesthetic skills to extract relevant information from the natural world and organisms collected from nature. Through acquired skills, students will be expected to conceive methods to document the biological world and communicate concepts using strong visual imagery.   Photographic techniques and historical examples will be learned and applied.  Students will be evaluated based on their successful completion of a series of project-based assignments, participation in discussions and critiques, and their ability to  effectively convey biological principles through photography.  Pre-requisite: at least one introductory-level biology course and one photography course or permission of instructor. Students will be expected to provide their own camera for the course; a digital camera with interchangeable lenses is recommended.

Level: Intermediate.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: $95.00.

ES2010Ecology: Natural History

This course emphasizes field studies of the ecology of Mount Desert Island, incorporating labs and field trips.  Each exercise focuses on a central ecological concept.  Topics include intertidal biology and diversity, forest trees and site types, bedrock geology, soil biology, insect diversity, pollination ecology, freshwater biology, predation, herbivory, and the migration of birds.  Discussions include the development of natural history as a science and the role of natural selection in the evolution of diversity.  Students are expected to keep a field notebook or journal, to undertake a project, and to write a term paper.  Class meets for two lecture sessions and one lab session or two field/lab sessions per week.  The course is particularly appropriate for students concentrating in Environmental Education.  This class is intended for first year students, who will have priority during registration.  Returning students may take this course with permission of the instructor.

Level: Introductory/Intermediate. Prerequisites: None; field work involves strenuous hiking. Class Limit: 14. Lab fee: $75.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES3030Environmental Physiology

The manner in which animals survive in extreme environments or function at levels that far exceed human capacities has always fascinated us.  In this course, we examine how an animal's physiology fashions its functional capacities under various environmental conditions.  We explore the interrelationships between physiology, behavior, and ecology using an integrated and evolutionary approach in order to understand regulatory responses in changing environments.  Major areas to be covered include thermoregulation, behavioral energetics, and osmoregulation.  Emphasis is placed on vertebrate systems to elucidate general patterns in physiological attributes.  This course has two lecture/discussion sessions per week and students are evaluated on class participation, a series of take-home exams, and a class presentation.

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites: Biology I & II, or equivalent.  Class limit: 15. Lab fee:  $65.00  Meets the following degree requirements: ES


This course provides students with the opportunity to put their knowledge of ecology and diversity into an evolutionary framework.  The emphasis is on how populations of organisms are currently evolving, with a focus on the ecological context of natural selection.  Topics in the course include the genetic basis of evolutionary change, selection and adaptation, reproductive effort, co-evolution, the ecology and evolution of sex, behavioral ecology, speciation, and applied evolutionary ecology.  In addition to a textbook, students read several original research articles.  The course has two lectures and one discussion section per week.  Evaluations are based on exams and short essay sets.

Level:  Intermediate.  Prerequisite:  Biology I and II or equivalent.  Offered every other year.  Class limit: 20.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES


This course is a comprehensive introduction to the biology of amphibians and reptiles.  We cover the systematics, physiology, behavior, and ecology of each group, with particular emphasis on the important contribution amphibian and reptilian studies have made to the fields of physiological, behavioral, and community ecology.  Readings are chosen from a text and from primary literature.  The course consists of two lecture/discussion sessions per week and one lab/field trip every week.  Weather dictates the number and focus of field trips, but students should expect to participate in both day and night field trips throughout the term.  Students are evaluated on class participation, exams, and a term-long field project.

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites:  Biology I and II or equivalent, and one Vertebrate Biology course.  Class limit: 12.   Offered every other year.   Lab fee:  $75.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES480Introduction to Collections Care: Saving all the Parts

Natural history museums are major players in the great human enterprise that was started by Linnaeus over 250 years ago: to catalog all of Earth's species and understand the inherent order of these organisms. While the Earth's biotic inventory is far from complete, natural history collections presently held by reputable institutions represent extremely valuable and, in some cases, irreplaceable sources of knowledge regarding life on our planet. This course introduces students to current principles and practices of caring for and organizing collections through hands-on work with the holdings of the Dorr Museum. This course will focus on the proper storage, handling, and exhibition of collections, and cataloguing collections in accordance with currently accepted evolutionary relationships among represented taxa. Through individual and group projects, students will research and pilot practices that address short- and long-term needs of collection material. Students will be evaluated on level of class participation and successful completion of class projects, including a final project that will form the basis of a strategic plan for collections care at the Dorr Museum. This course is suitable for students interested in the study of natural history, vertebrate biology, educational studies, and exhibition in museums and galleries. Level: Introductory. Class limit: 14. Lab fee: $30.00.

ES4012Winter Ecology

In higher latitudes and higher altitudes of the world, up to nine months of each year can be spent locked in winter.  Although migratory species appear to have a selective advantage over non-migratory species during the winter season, year-round resident animals have evolved a remarkable array of physiological, morphological, and behavioral adaptations that allow them to cope with potentially lethal environmental conditions.  In this course, we focus on the special challenges of animals wintering in northern latitudes.  Some of the topics that we address are:  the physical properties of snow and ice, general strategies of animals for coping with sub-freezing temperatures, life in the subnivean environment, animal energetics and nutrition, physiological acclimatization, and humans and cold.  There are two discussions/lectures and one field exercise every week, as well as two weekend field trips.  Students should be prepared to spend a significant amount of time outdoors in winter conditions.  Students are evaluated on class participation, exams, and a student term project.  

Level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites:  Permission of instructor.  Class limit:  14.  Lab fee $100.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

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