Winter 2020
Class Size: 50
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

biology, virology, molecular biology
forest and plant ecology

Deserts reflect a diversity of habitats that can occur along with dramatic temperature and moisture gradients. Major advances in ecology have been made in these extreme environments, and important work in global change biology is currently being conducted in these ecosystems. This program will use desert biomes as a central pivot for investigating patterns in ecology, biology, microbiology and evolution. Students will learn about arid environments, environmental issues related to water use and regulation, plant ecology, field biology, microbiology and biology of organisms adapted to these extreme environments from cacti to kangaroo rats, to snails and tardigrades (water-bears).

We will pair hands-on scientific exploration in deserts (primarily the southwestern US) with detailed study of conservation, natural resources, and ecosystem response to climate change impacts. Students will learn to conduct detailed laboratory analyses so that they can apply these methods in new investigations in field sites. We will then travel to remote field sites in the Southwest to apply these techniques to questions about organisms in southwestern ecosystems. All students will participate in a mandatory two-week field ecology module where they will engage in major research projects on diversity and ecology of deserts, riparian forest ecology, and biodiversity of cryptic organisms.

During the trips, students will learn to identify plant species and conduct field science experiments. We will also visit environmentally significant sites, including cactus forests, canyons, wetlands, mountains, and water diversion projects. Students will use research conducted on these trips as the foundation for writing research papers as a culminating experience of the program. Students will receive specialized training in scientific writing, presentation, statistical analysis of data and techniques in laboratory and field biology. Finally, weekly seminars will focus on texts that are central to understanding environmental dilemmas in arid regions.

There will be an emphasis on student- and faculty-derived research projects, requiring students to do large amounts of lab and/or field work, reading of the literature, writing a research proposal and presenting their work at the end of the program. Students should be prepared for extensive time living and working in the field and should be committed to working through conflicts in group dynamics.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

environmental studies, resource management, ecological restoration, conservation biology, biology, botany, zoology, and microbial ecology. 


Credits per quarter


This program is designed for students who have a strong background in biology or ecology and are ready for advanced work. 

Online learning:
  • Hybrid Online Learning - This offering delivers < 25% of its instruction online, rather than via face-to-face contact between you and your instructors.

$350 for expenses related to travel and lodging/camping in the Southwest. There will be a two-week trip mid-quarter.

Upper division science credit:

Up to 16 upper division science credit will be awarded upon successful completion of the program.

Class Standing: Junior–Senior
Class Size: 50

Scheduled for: Day

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 - 10:00 am
LAB 1 1040 - Class Lab

Located in: Olympia