Turning field-based course data into undergraduate research projects, capstone experiences and long-term ecology publications.

Michel Andre Boudrias, University of San Diego, Environmental and Ocean Sciences, San Diego, CA, United States
All undergraduate majors in Environmental and Oceans Sciences take our Research Application course that exposes them to field and lab techniques in geology, chemistry and biology. The class collects a suite of data from a grid of stations in Mission Bay, San Diego, CA. Many of the data sets are analyzed in lab but several data sets are collected with the purpose of developing student research projects that will eventually contribute to a comprehensive temporal analysis of the ecological changes in the Bay. For example, several students have used the plankton samples collected during the semester and have used them for their capstone research experience that combines focused research questions, more comprehensive data analysis, and written and oral presentation of their results. Their results suggest that flow characteristics in the bay affect the abundance and diversity of phyto - and zooplankton. Other students have developed independent research projects that complement the large scale class data set and include the field and lab skills developed in the class and others. These benthic projects showed the effects of heavy metals and sediment characteristics on meiofauna communities and the positive impact of an invasive bryozoan on benthic community diversity. These research students have increased their lab skills, improved their statistical analyses and developed the confidence to present their research at local and national meetings. Ultimately, these collective student research projects, enhanced with some additional analysis, will result in a publication looking at long-term ecological changes in plankton and benthic communities in Mission Bay.