BIOL275-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023

Field Ecology

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 20 February 2023
End Date: Sunday, 25 June 2023
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 5 March 2023
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Sunday, 14 May 2023


This course provides a fundamental grounding in the practical skills used in ecology, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment. It is designed to add to the co-requisite course BIOL274 Principles of Ecology (to form the equivalent of the 30-pt BIOL270 Ecology) if students want to advance to 300-level ecology courses. There is a particular emphasis on the problems and issues affecting natural systems, and how ecological knowledge can be applied to achieve solutions. The focus of the course is a four-day field trip to the UC Cass field station near Arthur’s Pass National Park. Combined with laboratory sessions prior to cultivate basic skills, the field course allows students to develop expertise in field experimental design and sampling, data analysis and interpretation, as well as providing practical experience in some wonderful high country environments. We will also recognise taongo species and consider appropriate Maori protocols (tikanga) for sampling in the field and the need for consultation. Overall, this course provides both a comprehensive platform for those wanting to undertake more advanced ecological study. The combination of BIOL274 and BIOL275 is a prerequisite for all ecology core courses at 300-level, and for students intending to progress to postgraduate level in ecology.

To undertake all aspects of the course, students will need to have a reasonable level of fitness that allows them to travel over steep untracked forest and grassland, and have footwear and clothing that allows them to undertake field work safely in a mountain environment. Participation in the field course also involves a three-night stay at the Cass field station in bunkroom accommodation similar to a backcountry hut and with catered meals. This involves relatively close quarters living, limited internet access, working in groups, and pitching in to help with chores. We can cater for most dietary requirements, but please contact the course technician if your dietary requirements are particularly specialised. It is essential that students disclose health-related issues that might affect their safe participation in this course, via the field participant form filled in prior to the trip. Please contact the laboratory and field trip co-ordinator (Aynsley Macnab) if you have any questions about any of these aspects of the course.

It is assumed students will be taking, or have taken, BIOL274 as co-requisite or a pre-requisite. It will also be helpful if students are developing statistical skills to underpin data analysis undertaken on this course. For example, we generally expect you have taken STAT101 (or equivalent) in your first year, and expect you will likely be taking a 200 level data analysis course (BIOL209, GEOG205, or GEOG208). If this is not the case, then discuss this with the course coordinator.

Learning Outcomes

  • As a student in this course, I will develop the ability to:

    Learning Outcomes
    1. Conduct field work safely (assessment: pre-field course operational requirements quiz, field trip gear check, and attending the field course)
    Related Graduate Attributes and Kaupapa: Critically competent in the core academic discipline, Employable, innovative and enterprising.

    2. Develop and implement field sampling protocols including plant & animal field identification, and undertake basic data analysis and interpretation (assessment: field trip short and long reports)
    Related Graduate Attributes and Kaupapa: Critically competent in the core academic discipline, Employable, innovative and enterprising.

    3. Synthesize scientific literature to provide appropriate background, context and interpretation for a field study in ecology (assessment: field trip long report)
    Related Graduate Attributes and Kaupapa: Critically competent in the core academic discipline, Employable, innovative and enterprising. Globally aware.

    4. Analyse and present the results of an ecological field study in the format of a scientific paper (assessment: field trip long report)
    Related Graduate Attributes and Kaupapa: Critically competent in the core academic discipline, Employable, innovative and enterprising.

    5. Apply an understanding of biculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand as it applies to native species as taonga and responsibilities to Treaty obligations during fieldwork. In reports we will expect native species to be referred to by both their scientific and Māori names, and for the interactions of findings with Māori knowledge be discussed where appropriate (assessment: pre-field trip operational requirements quiz, mihi, field trip long report).
    Related Graduate Attributes and Kaupapa: Biculturally Competent and Confident (kaupapa 1,3,4,6,7), Employable, innovative and enterprising.

    Pūkenga Ngaio | Transferable Skills
    As a student in this course, I will develop the following skills:
  • Conducting safe field work.  A health & safety plan is prepared for our field work which involves identifying, and eliminating, mitigating or minimizing hazards. All students must complete a three-step procedure, including a quiz, to be able to attend the field course. GP2
  • Formation of hypotheses & explanations.  Developing explanations for patterns and observations is important to developing an understanding of principle concepts. We will encourage this through discussions and feedback sessions on the field course. GP1
  • Collecting useful quantitative data to test hypotheses including: experimental design and hypothesis formation; field sampling protocols for estimating cover, species abundance and community composition; plant and animal identification (including the use of keys); and data organization and manipulation in spreadsheets. We will conduct two smaller field sampling exercises in the labs to build skills for four more sophisticated field studies that will be undertaken on the field course. These four field investigations provide both the real-world context for lectures and develop hands-on practical skills, and will involve sampling both plant and animal communities in the Canterbury high country. GP1,2 & 4
  • Basic data analysis and interpretation (t-test, chi-square test, regression and ordination). Important for research, as well as in all private-sector and government organizations to ensure rigour in findings. These will be introduced in the laboratory sessions and will be applied to the field data collected on the field course and used in both short and long report write-ups. GP2
  • Writing a report in the format of a short report & a scientific paper. Clear written communication is especially important in ecology where a main goal is to influence the management of natural resources and ecosystems. One laboratory will be devoted to developing scientific reading and writing skills, and the components required in the long reports will be listed in a marking schedule in the field course handbook. Writing for specific audiences is important. GP 2

    *GP1, GP2, etc, refer to Graduate Profile attributes: (1) Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their degree; (2) employable, innovative and enterprising; (3) biculturally competent and confident; (4) engaged with the community; and (5) globally aware.
    • University Graduate Attributes

      This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

      Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

      Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.

      Employable, innovative and enterprising

      Students will develop key skills and attributes sought by employers that can be used in a range of applications.




Timetable Note

Field Trip
We will run four-day trips to the UC Cass Field Station near Arthur's Pass National Park in the mid semester break. You pick ONE of the trips. Importantly, by the end of WEEK 2 you will need to book your preference for one of the trips in the timetable. Then, you will need to complete the operational requirements, including health and safety forms, on the course Learn site by end of WEEK 4 to attend the field trip. Note that the field trip is COMPULSORY AND PROVIDES THE SOURCE OF 95% OF THE ASSESSMENT FOR THIS COURSE.

Trip dates are:
EITHER Thur 13 – Sun 16 April 2023
OR Sun 16 – Wed 19 April 2023
OR (only if needed) Mon 10 – Thur 13 April 2023

The 10 – 13 April trip will only run if course enrolment numbers require it and this will be determined in the first week of term. To participate in the field trip students will need to have a LEVEL OF FITNESS that allows travel over untracked forest and grassland, and have FOOTWEAR AND CLOTHING that allows field work to be undertaken safely in a mountain (wet and cold) environment. If either of these aspects will pose a problem for you, please contact the field trip organiser, Aynsley Macnab, as soon as possible. Also see other notes in the Course Description above about what the field course entails.

Course Coordinator / Lecturer

Angus McIntosh


Matthew Turnbull and Sara Kross

Lab Coordinator

Aynsley Macnab


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Short field trip reports 20%
Mihi 5%
Pre-field course requirement + quiz 17 Mar 2023 5%
Major field trip report 19 May 2023 70% Submitted to Learn

Textbooks / Resources

Ētahi atu tuhinga e whai take ana | useful readings
Smith, T. M & Smith L. S. (2015) Elements of Ecology, 9th (Global) Edition. Pearson Education Limited, Edinburgh Gate, England.
Begon M, Howarth RW, Townsend CR (2014) Essentials of ecology, 4th edition. Blackwell. (Previous course textbook)
Dawson, J, Lucas, R (2000) Nature guide to the New Zealand forest. Godwit. (Field guide useful for field course).

Rauemio Ako | Course material
Additional information including course handouts, supplementary reading and field trip details will be posted on Ako | Learn.

Please also note that we will be requesting that you submit written work in electronic form (for grading and for assessment of originality using “Turnitin”). Instructions will be given on how you do this via Learn.

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $1,100.00

International fee $5,362.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see School of Biological Sciences .

All BIOL275 Occurrences

  • BIOL275-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023