BSc Biology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Alpine Biodiversity & Forest Ecology (RSM Field Course)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL21422
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

This field course takes you to Italy for fourteen days in which you'll study at the Field Station Baita Torino located in the Italian Carnic Alps. The course offers a challenging framework to explore the biological dynamics within different alpine ecosystems, including mountain scrubland, wet forests, dolines, high pastures, meadows, scree, and moraines. The two-week residential format provides a unique opportunity for you to immerse yourself in exciting research. You’ll learn a variety of sampling methods to measure habitat variables, and to study and identify organisms found in the different forest and mountain areas (i.e. plants, animal, fungi, and lichens).

You will be taught how to quantify ecological characteristics and how to use taxonomic keys for identification, with particular focus on comparing and contrasting the different habitats studied. You are also encouraged to formulate working hypotheses based on ecological observation, beginning the transition from being relatively passive consumers of scientific information to becoming active and competent researchers of new facts. By the end of the course, you will have acquired a degree of self-sufficiency and independence in your understanding of how to plan and carry out a scientific investigation.

To see photos of the field course visit: Field Courses: Alpine Biodiversity and Forest Ecology – Italy

Pre/co-requisites

Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Introduction to Statistics for Field Courses BIOL10692 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL10692 is a pre-requisite of the Y2 field courses Any students who have not taken this unit in Year 1 must complete it in semester 2 of Year 2.

If you select a field course RSM unit and have not previously completed the BIOL10692: Introduction to Statistics for Field Course unit (zero credits) in Year 1, this unit will be added to your record as a mandatory co-requisite, to be completed in semester 2 of Year 2.

Aims

The unit aims to provide training in research techniques for studying biodiversity and investigating ecological problems in a mosaic of mountain habitats such as meadows, high pastures and forests. The unit focuses on observational methods, experimental design, quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques, statistical analysis and interpretation of the results and delivery of the findings.

Learning outcomes

Students will be able:

  • to use a wide range of sampling methods
  • to quantify habitat characteristics
  • to identify organisms
  • to assess biodiversity
  • to assess community structure
  • to gain knowledge of the species and ecology of European mountain forest habitat
  • to introduce student to land and forest management and conservation
  • to identify fundamental biological questions
  • to recognize accurate research approaches and to use correct analytical techniques
  • to use problem solving, innovation and creativity
  • to monitor and self-correct progress throughout the development of the project
  • to give ethical consideration of field base investigation including animal handling and welfare
  • to appraise critically their findings
  • to use experimental and quantitative approaches to the investigation of natural environments.
  • to use sampling techniques
  • to use identification keys
  • to record professionally data in lab book
  • to communicate scientific findings (both written and oral)
  • to manage experimental plan
  • to develop leadership
  • to analyse and critical evaluate literature
  • to develop team working and group skills
  • to understand ethical values concerning wildlife

Syllabus

This is a 14 day course (July 2014) held in the Field Station Baita Torino located on the Pura Mountain pass in the Italian Carnic Alps. The two-week residential format provides a unique opportunity for students to immerse themselves in research. Besides providing a basic knowledge on how to identify organisms and quantify habitat variables, this course offers a challenging framework to explore the biological dynamics within different ecosystems. Students are also encouraged to formulate working hypotheses based on ecological observation, beginning the transition from being relatively passive consumers of scientific information to become active and competent investigators of new facts. By the end of the course, students will have acquired a degree of self-sufficiency and independence in their understanding of how to plan and carry out a scientific investigation.

Part 1: Biodiversity survey of different ecosystem. The first few days of the course, students will use a variety of sampling methods to measure habitat variables, and to study and identify organisms found in the different forest and mountain areas (i.e. plants, animal, fungi, lichens etc.). The students will be taught how to quantify ecological characteristics and how to use taxonomic keys for identification, and particular focus will be given on comparing and contrasting the different habitats studied. Students will be tested on their acquired knowledge of the local biodiversity and different alpine ecosystems through a test. These few days will also help the student to gather ideas for their individual research project.

Part 2: In small tutorial groups, together with demonstrators, each student designs and plans their individual project focusing on testing a hypothesis they have identified. This part includes training in experimental design, choice of statistical methods, and the use of lab books for recording data. Each student will produce a detailed experimental plan including the rationale and significance of the study, hypothesis/expectations based on pilot preliminary data, methodology to be used and the schedule for data collections including a contingency plan.

Part 3: Data collection takes place over several days. Data are explored, analysed and interpreted. Initial data analyses and conclusions are presented and discussed in small tutorial groups. Follow up hypothesis are identified and if time allows a further round of data collection is carried out. Data are then written up in a concise scientific report, to develop the student’s ability to summaries effectively their finding.

Part 4: The project is presented to the rest of the students in a final one day workshop. Students will be trained to convey efficiently their hypothesis and the key findings to their peers, within the given time frame (12 min). Students chair the sessions and participate in the marking of the oral presentations.

Field Course RSMs will require a financial contribution to be made early in the first semester of your second year. In cases of financial hardship, you should contact the Senior Advisor as soon as possible. RSM units may NOT be changed, once registered, without the written permission of the RSM Coordinator concerned and the Faculty Senior Advisor.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
The course requires students to analyse statistically the ecological/behavioural data which were collected.
Group/team working
The students are split into tutorial groups (4-5 students per group) and they are encouraged to report their findings and discuss each others projects daily.
Innovation/creativity
Innovation and creativity is very much supported. The students are encouraged to find the questions that they are interested in and to conceive the experimental project. A mark is awarded for the Experimental Plan Report reflective of the student ability to formulate new research ideas and organising in a sound manner the experiments (counting 25% of the total mark of the unit). Most of the project requires assembly of appropriate material for the research project, fuelling the creativity of the students (i.e. chamber's of choice for insects; cardboard flowers; fish's trap etc.).
Leadership
The course is design to give opportunity to the keen students to take leadership in organising evening activity and the final leaving party. Usually two students each week volunteers to take charge of this duty. Moreover the students have the opportunity to volunteer to chair one of the oral sessions, since there are usually six sessions and therefore six students can take this opportunity.
Project management
The students will conceive and manage their own experimental project.
Oral communication
The students have to present their project, data, results and conclusions in a 12 minute talk. The oral contribution is marked and counts 20% towards the final mark of the unit.
Problem solving
During the project the students have to overcome and solve several technical and scientific challenges.
Research
The whole course is about research. The students learn how to formulate a scientific question, and how to tackle it experimentally. Results and data are collected, analysed and conclusions are drawn. Pro, Cons and drawbacks of the project are discussed in tutorial groups.
Written communication
The students have to write an Experimental Plan Report (25% of the overall mark) and a Concise Final Project Report where they summarise their findings and conclusions (30% of the total mark of the unit).
Other
The students live and study together for two weeks as a community, developing group skills, and learning how to adapt to different needs.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Report 55%
Portfolio 5%
Oral assessment/presentation 20%
Set exercise 10%

Other

10%

Course contribution mark: assesses students intellectual and practical contribution to their own project and to the projects of their collaborators. The format is composite oral. That is, it is not assessed in a single sitting, but rather cumulatively over the twice-daily tutorial meetings and other during project-related activities.

Test

10%

Multiple choice biodiversity quiz

Report

55%

Two products. One 4-5 page research proposal (25%) and one 6-7 page project report (30%).

Portfolio

5%

Lab notebook.

Oral assessment/presentation

20%

One 7-minute presentation with supporting slides, plus ~3 minute question and answer period.

 

Feedback methods

Feedback provided on daily basis through tutorials and one-to-one discussions.

Recommended reading

Background material is provided during the course.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 50
Independent study hours
Independent study 50

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Robert Gilman Unit coordinator

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