BIO 527: Field Biology;
Summer 2009

Dr. Tom Tomasi:  836-5169

Mountain Ecology

This class will involve an extended field trip to the Rocky Mountains. In addition to the opportunity to observe and compare the plants, animals, geography/geology, and cultures of these mountains, you will participate in a class project and conduct independent research projects. These projects will be related to our themes.  They can be in the areas of population ecology, community ecology, or behavioral ecology, and can be on the plant/animal group of your choice. Since you will help each other with both the class and individual projects, both diurnal and nocturnal, class will be in session approximately 12 hours/day, 7 days/week (excluding transportation to/from sites).  Attendance is mandatory: there are no make-up trips.

 We will meet for about four hours before the trip (July 2/3) to learn about the ecology and adaptations unique to the mountain ecosystem, and to consider possibilities for the independent projects.  We will then pack the vans and depart on July 4th for Flagstaff, AZ (no firecrackers in the van).  From there, we will make our way north to the Canadian border, traveling through the Rocky Mountains for 6-8 days.  Then we will stay at one location in western Wyoming for 4 days, where the independent projects will be conducted, before returning to Springfield on July 20th. The exact itinerary (as best we can plan) is attached, but some flexibility may be necessary.  There will also be a post-trip meeting in early August for submitting independent project reports and giving PowerPoint presentations.

The primary theme of this class is that mountain communities differ by elevation, creating elevational “bands” of habitat. Temperature, light intensity, atmospheric pressure, and available water are some of the abiotic factors that can correlate with elevation, and influence community structure and species biogeography. Organisms that live in particular bands have evolved adaptations to the conditions there. Because factors other than elevation also play a role in shaping biological communities, these bands may differ from one mountain to another, and even from one side of a mountain to the other. For the class project, we will collect data to study the details of these relationships, particularly in Arizona, Utah, and Montana.  While doing this, you will each select a question related to this theme, and design an individual project to conduct in the Wyoming mountains. Other themes that we will likely encounter are that fire and man each play a role in shaping the community structure in the mountains (as it does here on the prairies and glades/savannas of Missouri).

Become familiar with the fauna and flora of the mountains;
Appreciate the ecological complexity and uniqueness of the mountain communities;
Appreciate the geology, geography, climatology, and history that relates to the biogeography of mountain organisms;
Practice skills in experimental design;
Obtain experience making measurements related to population ecology, community ecology, and/or behavioral ecology;
Practice skills in data analysis and oral presentation; and
Appreciate the importance of functioning as a team while conducting biological field work.

We will have readings from several texts on Mountain Biology, and field guides for identification of organisms.  The field guide recommended is: Field Guide to the Rocky Mountain States, which is part of the National Audubon Society series.   [ISBN 0-679-44681-8] 

Before the first pre-trip meeting, read the following pages:  10-24; 25-31 (optional); 32-59; 75-77.  This is easy reading, written for the layman, but good background and photographs.  Information about sites in each state is on p 370-412.

Grades will be based on a subjective evaluation of class participation and attitude (60%), field journal (10%), and the quality of the independent project (25%).  Therefore, the potential for academic dishonesty is very low in this class.  Grades are earned on the basis of: 90%=A; 80%=B;70%=C; <70%=F.

This class does require some hiking/working in mountainous terrain at high elevations.  Anyone with a handicap which might affect performance or participation in this class should contact the instructor and/or Disability Support Services (836-4129 or  This class is taught with the affirmative action/equal opportunity philosophy. Inquires should be directed to the Office of Equal Opportunity (836-4252 or  Cell phones are acceptable.

PRE-TRIP MEETINGS :  [Dates are tentative]

 July 2

 (2 hr)

Introduction - Basic trip schedule

Safety / Dangers:
            Climatic: Dehydration, exertion

Personal equipment: What to bring and not bring
Menu/Diets:  Needs/preferences

Possible independent projects

Mountain ecosystems
        What makes the mountains different from other habitats? (abiotic)
         Mt. Lemmon data

 July 3

(2 hr)

Species lists due

Group project and assignments
Plants (tree identification)
Animals (catching/handling)

Last minute details

Class equipment check

For students that are available, please donate a couple hours for checking/cleaning the field equipment to reduce the problems that might occur while we are on the road.  [An ounce of prevention . . . . . . .]

Post-trip meeting(s) will be in early August