Coastal Biodiversity & Conservation

Overview: In an area renowned for its spectacular biodiversity, this course offers students the opportunity to learn about the rich mosaic of coastal ecosystems that exist on the British Columbian coast and the many species that inhabit them. We will examine patterns of biodiversity at local, regional and global scales, and learn about the processes that generate them. Concepts and issues such as ecosystem services, biodiversity change and human impacts will be explored as will the approaches used to evaluate, monitor and conserve biodiversity. Group projects will focus on local marine, intertidal, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems and allow students to develop practical biodiversity surveying and monitoring skills. Overall, students will gain a deeper understanding of coastal biodiversity and conservation science in an area that boasts a truly remarkable assemblage of wild spaces and species.

Research Skills: Students will learn to identify, survey and monitor coastal species in marine, intertidal, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. Students will develop questions and hypotheses, plan their scientific study design, undertake fieldwork to collect information, analyze their data using the open-source program R, and communicate their findings to peers.

Practical Skills: Students will improve their abilities to: think critically, voice their opinion on scientific topics, develop and implement scientific projects, use tools to measure and map abiotic and biotic habitat features, identify species, collect and analyze data, perform data management and analysis in R, communicate scientific findings and be both a team player and an independent thinker.

Prerequisites: Third year standing in biology, environment science or related life science or permission of the instructor(s). An introductory course in ecology or environmental science and in stats is recommended but not required.

Physical Requirements: This course involves activities that require moderate physical exertion, including at least one hike (~4 hours round trip) on wet, muddy and uneven trails. Field trips to remote locations will involve shorter hikes, boat landings, lifting of bulky field equipment (generally less than 20 lbs), snorkeling, and lots of time spent in the slippery and uneven intertidal, bog and forest. There will be at least one camping trip that requires carrying food and gear.

Boat Use: You will be given the opportunity to drive boats if you choose to do so. Boat driving is recommended but not required for Coastal Biodiversity and Conservation. Students who wish to drive boats at BMSC must hold a PCOC and valid first aid certificate and will participate in an introductory boat check-out on the first day of orientation.

Textbook: No required textbook but the following field guides are recommended: Whelks to Whales, Revised Second Edition: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest, and Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska by Jim Pojar and A. MacKinnon, Revised edition


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In the classroom, students confront theoretical and empirical examples of how to measure and understand coastal biodiversity, as well as practical examples of how to approach its management and conservation. The beauty of a field-base course, however, is that classroom knowledge doesn’t have to be left there or on paper. We put into practice in the field our lessons from the lectures, including running from the library to follow a feeding humpback whale around Trevor Channel. This and other biological events symbolizes the opportunities that nature provided during this BMSC course. On numerous early mornings, the students can be found measuring intertidal biodiversity in Barkley Sound, embarking on a fieldtrip to examine invertebrate biodiversity at 30m in the canopy platforms of old-growth Western Redcedar, and navigating fog on Pacific Rim National Park beaches while searching for shorebirds. The course finishes up with excellent presentations of student field projects