(detailed update will be issued to each class)

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 a writing component course

 Time: 9-12 and 2-5 each Wednesday


Place: Brackenridge Field Laboratory (BFL), Room 119 and outdoors,  2907 Lake Austin Blvd.  (John Crutchfield, Resident Manager 471-2114)

Web address: BFL 



Staff:    Professor:  Lawrence E. Gilbert,  Patterson Laboratories 440, 512-471-4705

            e-mail:       Gilbert website


            T.A.:  Catalina Estrada,  Office: Patterson Laboratories  445,  471-8240



Recommended resource book:  General Ecology  Laboratory Manual     G.W. Cox

Informal class website:


Course Description:  Biology 373L was first offered  in fall 2000.  It is still evolving through feedback from participants.  One important goal of the course is to provide students with hands-on experience with important sub-disciplines of ecology through group and individual projects and observations conducted primarily on the 90 acres of BFL.  Because familiarity with organisms and their habitats is fundamental to making astute observations, asking non-trivial questions and developing ecological hypotheses, we spend considerable time doing collecting and identifications of common species and observations of habits and habitats of the biota.  Field problems will acquaint students with approaches to studying distribution and abundance of sedentary and mobile organisms, behavioral ecology, community ecology and diversity, and ecosystem processes.  In the early part of the course we will incorporate some of the most basic and useful tools for mapping, measuring and monitoring ecological phenomena and cover basic methods of analysis.  Later students will be expected to apply some of these approaches to their independent projects.  Data collected by previous courses will be available so that students can add to past knowledge about the field station.

 The morning period will include lectures and discussions (typically in the field) on the week’s topic(s).  First draft write-ups of assignments and field problems will be due on or before the beginning following week's class meeting.  Missing deadlines will cost 10% of the grade per week. In the case of projects that extend over several weeks, progress reports will be submitted weekly until data collection is completed.  Formats for write-ups will be provided and we ask that students use those as templates to ensure that all required parts of research reports are addressed properly.  The types of assignments or responsibilities are as follows:


1.  Write-ups of class field problems or field experiments.

2.  Write-ups of statistical exercises in lab.

3.  Write-ups of independent projects.

4.   Write-ups of field trips.

5.   Keeping an accurate and neat field notebook.

6.   Return of keys checked-out course equipment, zip discs, CDs, memory cards, lab books.

7.   Participation in keeping lab tidy, recording entry to area and lab during off hours.


Evaluation:  There will be no final exam.  Rather each student will prepare a power point presentation based on his or her independent project.  On the last class day students will present a Power Point talk about their project to the class.  Grades are based on the subjective and objective assessments of the staff.  In addition to reading all your work, Gilbert and Plowes will both be working with you all day each Wednesday at BFL, or on field trips.  We will be available for consulting in the field as needed to help with independent projects.  Your participation and sincere effort will be very obvious to us.  The quality of work you hand in will be largely a function of your personal commitment to learning to do field ecology.  Our policy is to allow re-writes of poorly written assignments based on the critiques of the staff.  We assign comments but not grades to written work.  At any time we can let you know what final grade we would assign up to that point.  Approximately 50% of you grade will be base on performance in organized class projects and 50% based on your independent work.

 Some insights we gained from the previous classes were these. 1) Everyone was interested and certainly capable of "A" work.  However, the people who earned A's in our final judgment apparently had been spending 3-6 hours at BFL weekly beyond class hours and some time in the library doing background literature searches to improve research write-ups.  In other words, they clearly had developed the tendency to educate themselves using the course as a stimulus, seed crystal or resource.  In some cases our prejudices based on early impressions were overturned as people got higher or lower grades based on performance not just potential.  2) Most people do not autonomously seek background information to improve and expand their reports.  The “A” students tended to go that extra mile (i.e., the library, not just the internet!). 3) Since other courses you are taking have exams and other types of deadline pressure, some people tend to let this course slip until there is no hope of catching up.  That is the basis for our policy of tightening up deadlines.

 Weather:  Because we are studying outdoors in a real ecosystem, the best laid plans for particular field problems can be overturned by the elements.  But even when we are forced to switch plans for the week's project, we still will be operating in the weather we find that week.  Therefore, be personally prepared for any contingency.  Given the weather patterns so far in 2003, we suggest you get some rubber boots to leave at BFL and bring a fold-up umbrella or rain poncho anytime the weather forecasts suggest rain.  Don't under-estimate how cold you can get working outdoors all day.  Always come prepared for current outdoor conditions. Please refer to the following web site the day before class so that you can come prepared:

 Information on dropping the course from the College of Natural Sciences (we will follow these guidelines):" The University establishes drop deadlines and the College of Natural Sciences adheres to those published deadlines (see your Course Schedule).

 The class schedule below is tentative because it depends on weather and organisms.  We will notify you ASAP if there are any changes.  Note the dates of field trips. We might consider another later in the course if the group is caught up on work. 

The work of the course necessarily involves projects running in parallel and overlapping to some extent so that we can set things up one week and harvest data another.   This gets confusing unless you constantly refer to the schedule below.  If we fail to bug you about a deadline, it’s still there in writing.  Note that after a listing of a week’s activity in the second column, we tell you what you need to prepare for the next week.   Once things are rolling you will be doing statistical analysis and a first draft of the most recent project and finishing revisions on a paper from two weeks before.  Also there is typically a third assignment such as a paragraph description of some aspect of your acre etc.

Please read the schedule and write the assignments on your calendar as a reminder.  Assignments due week N are found on the right hand column of week N-1.   Below is a tentative list.  We will modify assignments according to how well the group is progressing. We will alter specific projects according to weather and opportunity.   







(to do by the next week

for full credit)


Orientation: Course description, Trails, Trees, Habitats I.

Introduction to digital cameras and GPS.

Explore the BFL website. Pick up BFL key.    Write plant species description.



Field tour and lecture.

BFL History.  Trails, Trees, Habitats II  Outdoor Facilities, Tropical Greenhouse. Put out HOBOS (AM).


Define woodland habitat patches in terms of substrate, ground vegetation and % canopy cover.


Statistics and report writing 


Assign Acres. Define corners with GPS unit. Learn to down load HOBO data.

Pose 5 ecological questions based on your first tours of BFL. 


Write a one page description of BFL’s diverse  landscape.  

Abstract past student’s research report.

Read first Chapter of Cox



 Estimate size structure of common trees at BFL and relate to habitat and history.  Use point quarter method.  

Collect and summarize data (AM/PM).

Tree report.  

Key to trees of BFL

Install GPS data and map corner points of you acre on aerial photo of BFL.

4   Characterizing the woodland landscape mosaic at BFL Collect and summarize data (AM).

GPS map major habitat features witihin your acre (e.g. woodland clearing boundary). Learn low tech mapping

Write final tree report. Landscape & habitats report

List trees in your acre.




 Mark release recapture (MRR) estimates of mobile populations (butterflies) AM.

Begin to photograph key features of your acre.  Record position and direction of each photo. 

MRR report


File digital images in labeled web folders.






Learn to pin label & key out ants (AM)

Impact of phorid flies on foraging in fire ants.  Collect and summarize data (AM).


Write up on phorids and Fire ants.




Finish acre project. Phase I (Phase II will involve  a periodic checking to note and record seasonal changes weekly through semester.)  

Write up acre project Phase I with graphics.

Submit two ideas for your independent project.

Read literature on mesquite grasslands   



Field trip to Chaparral Wildlife Mgmt Area (we will leave Tuesday,  late afternoon)

(Research maps of Texas biomes, geology, climate, vegetation zones, elevation.)

Essay comparing BFL vegetation/landscape & Chaparral habitats and biotas




Interactions within and structure of the terrestrial ant community: Sampling along transects;  (AM).  Key out ants & assemble all data (PM). 

Sample, pin and identify the ants and other arthropods in your acre.  

Work on developing independent project.

Introduction and analysis for ant community structure paper.


Paragraph on ants in your acre.

FINAL Independent project proposals.


10   Species accumulation curves and estimates of local diversity.  Note, we’ll choose a specific system based on what is available at the time (eg.  insects of rotting wood, spiders in leaf litter, etc.)

Diversity paper.

Complete Acre Report (small additions may be made to include late seasonal changes)


11   Field trip to Stengl “Lost Pines” Biological Station for comparative Natural History. We will leave Tuesday evening and return to BFL at noon).

Field Trip II   Visit to ecosystem monitoring project of Dr Litvak at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. 

Report comparing BFL and Stengl Stations. 



Primary productivity and diversity vs. impact of deer browsing and habitat carrying capacity for deer (AM and PM)  

Report on habitat productivity and 

carrying capacity for deer. 

Incorporate information from Litvak project.



Independent project 

Revised proposal, literature references.



Independent project 

Progress report, and preliminary data analysis.




Independent project  


Final write up of project. 



Power point presentations of  independent project

Hand in Final Indep Project & Binder with all classwork.  



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