Survey Methods for Coastal Wildlife

Overview: Why do coastal wildlife species occur in one place, but not another? How do you conserve a species that is inextricably linked to hundreds of others? Ecological insights and conservation decisions are only as good as the data that fuel them, but coastal wildlife species offer unique challenges to data collection and analysis.

This course combines ecological theory, field work, and statistical modelling to explore the latest techniques for studying coastal wildlife distributions. Moving daily from classroom concepts to boat-based field work, this is more than a whale-watching course. We will discover the interacting abiotic and biotic processes affecting the distribution of marine mammals and seabirds. There will be equal emphasis on field research and statistical analysis, informed by lectures on spatial ecology, mammalian ecology, and conservation biology – with a focus on the practical realities of conservation management. We will conduct boat-based sampling to implement the concepts we learn. We will work together using student-led seminars, peer teaching, and group research projects to design, collect, analyze, and interpret ecological data.

Research Skills: You will learn ecological principles of species distributions, and the latest survey and analysis methods for wildlife. We will be using R for data analysis ­– a flexible, open-source statistical program you will encounter frequently as an ecologist, so why not learn it now? We will take you from a refresher of statistics basics through some more advanced methods, with a focus on species distribution models. As one student put it: “No one has ever taught me statistics like I’m a human before.” This is our objective.

Practical Skills: Scientific method from question formation, experimental design, surveying, analysis, and interpretation. We will use cutting-edge techniques, recently developed, that promise to be in future demand. Moreover, they are really fun when done right. The ecological concepts we discuss will provide a solid basis for anyone interested in continuing in ecology as a consultant, researcher, or manager. Peer teaching sessions will help you practice working in groups (as almost all work is done in the real world), as well as your public speaking skills.

Prerequisites: Third year standing in biology, intro ecology, and intro statistics, or instructor permission. Students without a good statistics background must be prepared to do some background legwork before arriving.

Physical Requirements: We will be outside for at least part of most days. The surveys are largely boat-based; these surveys in tidal waters can be choppy, so students must be comfortable in boats. Additional field trips may require hiking through rain forests, walking in rubber boots along slippery rocky intertidal zones, and getting in and out of boats.

Boat Use: You will be given the opportunity to drive boats if you choose to do so. Boat driving is strongly recommended but not required for Survey Methods for Coastal Wildlife. 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: None; readings will be provided.


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