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Syllabus, BIOL 497H Tropical Field Biology, Spring 2007

Syllabus, Spring 2007

BIOL 497H Tropical Field Biology (3 CR)

Course objective

Introduction to the ecology, behavior, taxonomy, and physiology of tropical organisms, with emphasis on close observation of living organisms in nature. Includes hands-on investigation of coastal and marine ecosystems on a tropical island.

Time and place:

We will meet each Tuesday and Thursday, 5:00-6:00 P.M. in Morrill 349

Web site:

The course web site is at We will post useful things there, so please check it frequently.


Bruce Byers (birds) 545-1236

Ana Caicedo (plants) 545-0975

Michelle Staudinger (fishes) 545-0157

Sean Werle (invertebrates) 577-1239

Betsy Dumont (mammals) 545-3565

Blake Gilmore (underwater exploration)


Humann, P. and N. DeLoach. 1995. Snorkeling Guide to Marine Life. New World Publications, Jacksonville, Florida. This book is available at the Textbook Annex and will get you started on identifying some of the marine organisms that you will encounter.

Other things you should have

a) a notebook for your field journal
b) binoculars for watching birds (try to borrow if you donít already own)
c) a 10X hand lens for examining plants and small animals
d) mask, fins, snorkel

Course structure

The course has three main components: 1) Twice-weekly pre-trip lectures, 2) eight days of field study in St. John, Virgin Islands, and 3) twice-weekly post-trip meetings, which will be used mainly for student presentations.


Grades will be based on four things:

1. Attendance. We expect each course participant to attend all pre-trip and post-trip course meetings. Attendance will account for 5% of your final grade.

2. Written work prior to the trip. After each Thurssday lecture, an instructor will assign a piece of follow-up work to be turned in the following Thursday. Each of these written assignments will be graded on a 10-point scale, and the points you accumulate over the pre-trip lectures will account for 20% of your final grade. In addition, we expect that you will read all material distributed in conjunction with pre-trip lectures.

3. A field notebook. We expect that you will keep a field notebook containing a daily record of your observations during the field trip. Your notebook should document the species that you observe each day, along with your observations of biological patterns, processes, and behaviors. Your field notebook will account for 10% of your final grade.

4. A course project. Each student is expected to devise, propose, and complete an appropriate research project. Developing a topic for your project will be one of the primary goals of the pre-trip portion of the course. A good project might combine some observations, collections, and/or data that you gather during the trip with some follow-up research at home. You wonít have a tremendous amount of time to work on your own in St. John, so the field component of your project must be doable within the confines of the trip structure.

Take advantage of the course instructors in developing your project idea. Consult with them as your idea incubates. We will share with you a list of project ideas; you may use one of these ideas as the basis of your project or you may develop an idea of your own. By the time we leave for the trip, you will have developed a project proposal. Draft proposal worksheets are due on Tuesday, February 27. Projects and project planning will be discussed at greater length at the 2/1 lecture.

After we return to UMass, each student will make a 15-minute oral presentation of his or her project to the class. These presentations will begin two weeks after we return from the trip, so the earlier presentations will necessarily be "works in progress." Each student will also complete a written, scientific-paper-style description of the project and its findings. A draft of the project write-up is due on 4/24, and the final version is due at the last class, Tuesday 5/15. Your project proposal, fieldwork execution and effort, oral presentation, and written project presentation will account for 65% of your final grade.


Course Schedule

(lecture topics subject to change)

Preparatory lectures

Tues 1/30 - Intro to Caribbean climate and geography (Dumont)

Thurs 2/1 Searching scientific literature, project planning overview (Byers; Byers gives assignment)

Tues 2/6- Reef-building organisms (Werle)

Thurs 2/8 Plant diversity and the plants of St. John (Caicedo; Caicedo gives assignment)

Tues 2/13 – Terrestrial arthropods and other invertebrates on St. John (Werle)

Thurs 2/15 Invasive species (Dumont; Dumont gives assignment)

Tues 2/20 – Reef fishes (Staudinger)

Thurs 2/22 – Birds of St. John (Byers; Byers gives assignment)

Tues 2/27 – Pollination ecology and seed dispersal (Caicedo; project worksheets due)

Thurs 3/1 – Threats to and conservation of reef ecosystems (Staudinger; Staudinger gives assignment)

Tues 3/6 – Bat diversity and ecology (Dumont)

Thurs 3/8 – Introduction to sampling (Werle; Werle gives assignment; responses to project worksheets back to students)

Tues 3/13 – Hummngbirds (Byers)

Thurs 3/15 – logistics, equipment distribution, field notebook pointers, last-minute questions.


Field trip schedule

3/17 Travel to St. John; field station orientation.
Evening lecture: Werle, What not to poke tomorrow.

3/18 Morning: Introduction to snorkeling in Little Lameshur Bay.
Afternoon: Reef organisms in Greater Lameshur Bay.
Late afternoon: Project start-up session
Evening lecture: Staudinger, Reef fish biology and ecology

3/19 Morning: Hike to dead mangrove forest, Europa Bay, and elsewhere.
Afternoon: Reef organisms in Greater Lameshur Bay.
Evening lecture: Caicedo, Plant defenses.

3/20 All day: Hike to petroglyphs, Reef Bay sugar mill ruins, summit of Bordeaux Mountain; exploration of tropical dry forest and island history.
Evening lecture: Dumont, Where are all the mammals?

3/21 All day: By boat to various sites, underwater exploration of reef.
Evening lecture: Byers, Why are birds monogamous?

3/22 Morning: By boat to Hurricane Hole, underwater exploration of mangrove ecosystem.
Afternoon: Work on projects.
Evening lecture: Gilmore, history of St. John

3/23 Morning: By boat to Tektite site. Snorkeling and scuba exploration
Afternoon: Brackish aquatic habitats near VIERS
Evening lecture: Werle, Sociality in the insects.

3/24 Morning: Hike to Saltpond Bay and Ram’s Head; exploration of hypersaline pond, xeric coastal environment
Mid-day lecture: Gilmore
Afternoon: Cinnamon Bay, explore moist forest and observe ecotourism
Evening: Cruz Bay; exploration of a tourist town

3/25 Travel day; return home.

Post-trip meetings

Tues 3/27 – Analyzing data - conceptual overview of statistical analysis (Byers) (turn in field notebooks)

Thurs 3/29 – How do I present my data? - Making tables and graphs (Dumont)

Tues 4/3 –Ecomonimically valuable tropical plants (K. Searcy guest lecture)

Thurs 4/5 – Tips for your paper and presentation (Byers)

Tues 4/10 – student presentations (3 per session)

Thurs 4/12 - student presentations

Tues 4/17 – Monday schedule, no class

Thurs 4/19 - student presentations

Tues 4/24 - student presentations (paper drafts due)

Thurs 4/26 - student presentations

Tues 5/1 - student presentations

Thurs 5/3 - student presentations

Tues 5/7 - student presentations

Thurs 5/10 - student presentations

Tues 5/15 - student presentations (final papers due)

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