Friday, February 1, 2013

Advanced Ecology Lab: 2013 (Weeks 1 & 2)

Another year is upon us!

We have several specific purposes with our lab exercises in this class.  They were, firstly, designed to give students practical experience that mimics what professional ecologists, natural resource regulators or environmental consultants would do.  The students conduct a variety of environmental assessments throughout the semester....use their results to make recommendations and write a professional-style report of their findings.

They apply skills that they've learned in past classes (such as in our 200-level Field Methods in Ecology class), and new techniques they are taught in this class throughout the semester.

Week one is primarily devoted to a site visit and reconnaisance.  The entire property is walked....different community types are identified...and a guess is made as to how the site fits into a landscape context.

Based on this assessment, they break into groups and find locations for their first long-term monitoring initiative on-site: camera traps!

During week was time to head back....service the cameras and delineate the boundaries of the habitats/communities on-site.

BUT, the weather found a way to make things more interesting.  Twenty-four hours before lab this week....the temperature was in the mid-50s.  Normally, I would say this is unheard of for January 'round here, but looking back at a blog post from last January reminded me that this is becoming the norm. 

And they say climate change is a myth!

Anyhoo, the warm temperature was not all that was in store for us.  When I left the house on the morning before we had lab, it was still warm and misting.  All of the snow that we had gotten previously was completely gone.

But things changed suddenly.  The temperature dropped drastically over the course of a few hours and the mist turned to snow.  By mid-afternoon, it looked incredible outside!!

Perfect weather for field work!

This required students dividing into groups and selecting one of their habitats/communities....following the periphery and recording GPS points.

They also had to flag the common boundaries between different habitats so that they could easily coordinate their data later....

We also checked the cameras....and the usual suspects showed up....

The White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)...note the raw-looking pedicel where the antler recently came off....

The Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

The Todd (Vulpes vulpes)

But that snow....I can't pretend I don't love it!


  1. Awesome class. It reminds me of the Wetland Dilineation course I took this past fall. Of course that was focused on wetlands, but we learned to assess different types of wetlands and all the characteristics that go with it, and then in the end we were defining the line between upland and wetland, and then had to defend our decision. We had a similar experience here with the weather this week. But with the snow we had wind, so it didn't settle nearly as prettily as yours did. Are your students using lures of any kind?

  2. Hey Alyssa,

    I don't have them use lures on the cameras. Part of the goal is to inventory species....but also to use "capture only" data in conjunction with a program called PRESENCE for estimating population sizes of certain species. I'm hoping to reduce the factors confounding our population estimates as much as possible. Since lures might draw the same individual in over and over....and it's hard to distinguish individuals for these species...we aren't using lures on these cameras.

    We *might* use them on some other cameras that we'll deploy in the coming weeks (for a slightly different purpose), though...

  3. Your students appear to know how to dress properly for cold weather. That is a good sign. I sometimes think that mistakes can help people remember to anticipate weather changes and bring layers in the future, but it is hard to watch people be miserable when they are cold and wet outside for the entire day. When I interview people for jobs, one of the things I listen for is their readiness to deal with the elements.

  4. Hi Cindy...

    Its good to hear that you look for this quality in folks you interview! I'm fairly certain that some students think I'm being sort of mean by having us outside every week in the winter. But they're field ecology majors...and they need to be prepared to deal with the less-than-ideal conditions. I'm trying to prepare them for post-graduation work in the field. I tell them that if they're going to complain about being outside, they should re-assess their major. I also tell them that if they come un-prepared for a job, or complain about conditions at a job...their employer can very quickly find a willing replacement for them.

    Because I teach this class in the spring semester...I usually start by emailing the students in the prior December to tell them that we'll be out every week for lab. I tell them to dig the snow-gear out of the closet. Appropriate gloves, footwear, pants, and so on (no jeans or hiking boots, unless insulated).

    Some dress smarter than others....but they learn quickly.

    Most are also from the upper know the score with the weather in January/February. Most of the time, I have no issues with them being unprepared or complaining.

    1. We've had similar speeches of preparation re: clothing at my college! Today I had a 4 hour lab outside in 15* weather with nonstop snow. A few people were unprepared (cotton hoodie sweatshirt/no jacket, Ugg boots, no gloves) but there was no complaint. They knew better than to whine I think!