Desert Ecology: BIOL 4601


Course Overview Locations Activities Facilities and Equipment  2015 Trip Highlights Brochure

View the stark landscape of the Big Bend. Observe the interconnectivity of the saguaro cactus community. Sit in the shade of the world’s largest grove of Joshua trees.  Experience the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. Explore the rock artistry of the Canyonlands. Admire the cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans. This intensive course immerses students in the mystery and majesty of our American deserts.

Deserts are harsh environments that do not sustain high biodiversity or ecological productivity. However, in large part because of this, deserts are living laboratories for understanding ecological processes. Deserts have relatively simple food webs and comprehensible levels of species richness, and therefore interactions between species as well as adaptations to environmental conditions are frequently obvious.  This course will combine online self-tutorial modules and an intensive, 16 day field trip that will immerse students in the fascinating study of desert ecology: the interactions between desert organisms and their environments. We will focus on the community ecology of the four recognized North American deserts—the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mohave, and Great Basin Deserts.

The course is therefore approximately 50% online lectures and plant identification tutorials, and 50% applied learning in the field.  The field component is a once-in-a-lifetime voyage to Big Bend National Park, Saguaro National Park, Mohave National Preserve, Grand Canyon National Park, Monument Valley, Canyonlands and Arches National Park, and Mesa Verde National Park. Both sections of this course are necessary for completion, and since this course totals 6 credit hours, both sections will be exceedingly intensive; the online section will be an intellectual challenge requiring very rapid identification and memorization of large numbers of plants (> 200 species). The field portion will not only be intellectually and physically demanding (we are visiting the deserts during the hottest, driest time of the year, and the hikes will be difficult to exceedingly strenuous), but possibly emotionally demanding as well. Some people do not function well in small groups for long time periods. But social skills and working well with others is an integral part of field biology. The course will be a unique field experience that will test the student’s usual learning capacity as well as sharpen their abilities to be individuals responsible for themselves in challenging field conditions.

For more information contact:
Dr. Sean Graham: Asst Professor of Biology
Office Address: C-64 WSB 221, Alpine, TX 79832
Office Telephone: 432 837-8084
Fax Number: 432 837-8682