Watershed Landscape Ecology: Interdisciplinary and Field-based Learning in the Northeast Creek Watershed, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
At the College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine, undergraduate students have the opportunity to design their own curriculum within a major of “Human Ecology." To enable students to have early research experiences, we developed a field-based interdisciplinary program for students to learn and practice field methods in a variety of disciplines, Earth Science, Botany, Chemistry, and Wildlife Biology at three specific field sites within a single watershed on Mt. Desert Island. As the Northeast Creek watershed was the site of previous water quality studies, this program of courses enabled continued monitoring of portions of the watershed. The program includes 4 new courses: Critical Zone 1, Critical Zone 2, Wildlife Biology, and Botany. In Critical Zone 1 students are introduced to general topics in Earth Science and learn to use ArcGIS to make basic maps. In Critical Zone 2, Wildlife Biology, and Botany, students are in the field every week using classic field tools and methods. All three of these courses use the same three general field areas: two with working farms at the middle and lower portion of the watershed and one uninhabited forested property in the higher relief headwaters of the watershed. Students collect daily surface water chemistry data at five stream sites within the watershed, complete basic geologic bedrock and geomorphic mapping, conduct wildlife surveys, botanical surveys, and monitor weather patterns at each of the main sites. Beyond the class data collected and synthesized, students also complete group independent study projects at focused field sites, some of which have turned into much larger research projects. This program is an opportunity for students and faculty with varied interests and expertise to work together to study a specific field locality over multiple years. We see this model as enhancing a number of positive education components: field-based learning, teamwork, problem solving, interdisciplinary discussion, multiple faculty interaction, student mentoring, and original research. In the future we see the possibility of welcoming even more interdisciplinary work including rigorous studies spanning the arts and humanities.