Alex Lowe: Ecology Between and Below Pacific Tides: a new field course adds a twist to a classic theme.
Field trips, travel to beautiful places, and new friends: Summer as a grad student can be a lot like summer camp as a kid, only nerdier. Several UW Biograds have had amazing opportunities to take advantage of different types of training and research during the summer. Biograd Alex Lowe discusses his participation in creating a new field course at Friday Harbor Labs.
In 1939, Ed Ricketts and Jack Calvin published Between Pacific Tides, a guide to the common and conspicuous organisms inhabiting the intertidal zone along the Pacific Coast of North America. The book is a must-have for ecologists (marine or otherwise) and enthusiasts alike; John Steinbeck even contributed the foreword to an early edition, so you know it’s good. Since that time, the field of intertidal ecology has transitioned from natural history observations to experimental manipulations and spread like an encrusting Halichondria into the subtidal, using SCUBA as a method of research. UW Biology has been a major player in the development of the field thanks to research from Bob Paine and his students working along the Pacific Coast, as well as many other prominent researchers. And now the tradition continues in a new field course being taught at the Friday Harbor Labs.
UW Biograd Katie Dobkowski (@KatieDobkowski) shows the
EBBPT class how to conduct intertidal algal surveys at
Cattle Point, San Juan Island.
The subtidal methods aspect of the course introduces another novel twist for a field course: EBBPT is a for-credit class offering AmericanAcademy for Underwater Sciences scientific diving certification. AAUS certification training is required for all scientific diving operations occurring at US universities, but has been primarily a specialty course offered at a few institutions at high cost. This was a major issue I was determined to address when Pema, Robin Elahi (@elahi_r; recent UW Ph.D. from the Sebens Lab and original co-creator of the course) and I were developing the course a couple years ago. As soon as students can get credit for AAUS certification, they can get financial aid, which opens this opportunity to a broader range of people. I once missed the opportunity to conduct research using SCUBA on sea ice-associated communities along the western Antarctic Peninsula owing to the prohibitive cost of the scientific diving course. I’ll be damned if that happens again!
|Group photo of the dive team during our rescue session in the San Juan Island Sherrif's pool. Author center.|
As a developing educator, a field course like EBBPT offers me an incredible teaching experience where “Teachable moments” abound. I’m verklempt just thinking about it. This course is particularly valuable to me since I have been part of every step of the development, from lectures to field activities as well as the student research projects.
The first two weeks of class were saturated with group experiments spanning the supralittoral to subtidal. By planting kelp detritus at different tidal elevations, putting out settling plates and surveying the diverse habitats around San Juan Island, the students gained experience in natural history observation and experimental techniques that guided them into their independent research. We intentionally spanned mean lower low water to stretch our students’ concept of an ecosystem and to compare and contrast important processes driving ecosystem structure in these connected habitats. You can follow our natural history observations in the class organism ID wiki here.
From Summer Camp,