Field Ecology and Natural History Syllabus

Field Ecology and Natural History is a course that integrates concepts of ecology, natural history, and environmental science using examples from Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island. Daily field exercises will focus on natural history of the Maine coast and ecological analysis of local streams, forests, lakes, bogs, marine intertidal systems, salt marshes, and montane granite domes. Participants will collect and interpret evidence regarding forest stand history and disturbance patterns, ecological zonation of organisms in different habitats, influence of soil and geologic conditions, adaptations in a coastal bog ecosystem, biodiversity patterns in different ecosystems, and indicator species in stream benthic communities. Class projects will focus on providing teaching tools, visual aids, mapping techniques, methods of data analysis, and lecture materials for use in middle school and high school classrooms. It is expected that course content will provide substantial enrichment for teachers seeking to meet national science education standards in life science, earth science, and scientific inquiry.

Course objectives: (a) explore ecological relationships and biodiversity in the beautiful outdoor classroom of Mt. Desert Island and its surroundings, (b) become familiar with sampling techniques and conceptual approaches that are used to investigate ecological patterns and processes, and (c) develop the expertise and inspiration to teach students the science of ecology.

Dates: July 7-12, 2013

Instructor: Dr. Christopher Cronan, Professor, School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5722. Phone: 207-581-2618 and E-mail:

Class Format: Class meetings from 8:30 am - 3:30 pm will involve a mix of mini-lectures and discussions on ecological concepts and techniques, daily field trips with sampling activities, and laboratory periods focused on analysis and interpretation of field data and observations. Some of the field exercises are moderately strenuous. Students will have some flexible unscheduled time each day following the field and lab sessions.

Recommended Reading: Prior to arrival at COA, students are encouraged to prepare for the class by reading one of the following suggested background texts in ecology: Reading the Forested Landscape - A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels, A Primer of Conservation Biology by Richard Primack, or Introduction to Ecology and Ecosystems Analysis by Christopher Cronan.

Evaluation of Student Performance will be based on participation in class activities, lab journals, discussions of selected ecological issues, and completion of a course project such as an ecological lesson plan, a PowerPoint presentation, or a short research paper.

Recommended Field Gear: Students are encouraged to bring sun screen, raincoat and pants, shorts, long pants, hiking shoes, hat, binoculars, hand lens, camera, field notebook, insect repellent, backpack, water bottle, polar fleece vest, and sturdy shoes/boots/sandals appropriate for walking in the slippery intertidal zone, streams, and wetlands. Cotton garden gloves are also useful for avoiding scrapes in the intertidal zone. Many students find it helpful to have a field guide such as the Audubon Field Guide to New England or specific guides for flora and fauna of New England.

Course Content:
: ecosystems analysis, successional processes, disturbance and recovery, biodiversity, environmental gradients and ecological zonation, competition, predation, environmental stresses, watershed processes, species composition of different habitats, adaptations, soil properties, methods of data analysis and graphing, global issues such as climate change, field natural history, sampling methods, conservation biology, and teaching techniques and approaches for the design of ecological experiments

Field Sites: forests, streams, lakes, bog, salt marsh, marine coastal zone, and mountain summits on Mt. Desert Island.

Ordering Textbooks:
Reading the Forested Landscape - A Natural History of New England
by Tom Wessels (ISBN 0-88150-420-3) is published by Countryman Press, P.O. Box 748, Woodstock, VT 05091 and is distributed by W.W. Norton & Company, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110. Cost = $17.95

A Primer of Conservation Biology by R.B. Primack (ISBN 0-87893-732-3) is available from Sinauer Associates Inc., P.O. Box 407, 23 Plumtree Road, Sunderland, MA 01375 [phone 413-549-4300, FAX 413-549-1118, e-mail: or website at . Book cost is about $34.95.

Introduction to Ecology and Ecosystems Analysis by C.S. Cronan (ISBN 0-9649337-1-3) is available on

Audubon Field Guide to New England (ISBN 0679-44676-1) is published by Alfred A. Knopf Publishers and is available for about $19.95 at bookstores.

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