pipeline center for sustainability  Biological Sciences, Santa Barbara City College
Biology 130: Methods in Field Biology

bald eagle



Michelle Paddack

Adam Green


EBS 319   

EBS 323


(805) 965-0581 x2328    

(805) 965-0581 X2394




Office Hours:




Catalog Course Description:

Through weekly field trips and 2-3 weekend field experiences, students will study flora and fauna of California using current biological and ecological field research methods, collect and analyze data, demonstrate leadership and group work skills, and write and present a research proposal. Students must be able to hike in rough terrain and carry bulky equipment.

Description for Schedule of Classes:

Through weekly field trips and 2-3 weekend field experiences, at times in difficult terrain, students will study California flora and fauna using current biological field research methods.

Course Objectives:

  • Become familiar with flora & fauna of California & apply biological and ecological knowledge to field surveys.
  • Understand the art & structure of conducting biological & ecological field research.
  • Learn a variety of field techniques used in ecological and management studies to survey habitat and census plant and animal populations. 
  • Learn how to plan and conduct field research, demonstrating leadership and group work skills.
  • Practice skills in data handling & analysis
  • Practice skills in oral presentation

Student Learning Outcomes:

  1. BIOL130 SLO1 - Demonstrate the techniques involved in recording data in the field, including proper journaling, photography, trapping and collecting, preservation of specimens, identification of specimens, and recording meterological and habitat data.
  2. BIOL130 SLO2 - Demonstrate techniques for creation and presentation of data through photography, graphs, charts, tables, and report layout for production of scientific reports & posters.
  3. BIOL130 SLO3 - Plan, initiate and complete an original program of field research.
  4. BIOL130 SLO4 - Produce original research reports in a standard scientific format based on field-collected data that include critical quantitative and qualitative evaluation of data to effectively communicate results, interpretations, and concepts.

Required Texts/Materials:

  • Pens/pencils for field notebook (Pencils work well with Rite in the Rain, also fine point sharpies work well because they don’t fade or smear)

All readings for each lab will be provided online. We also have a small library of reading and reference materials pertinent to the course.

Field Excursions:

On most class meetings, we will begin & end class at a local field site.  Many of these sites, including the two long weekend camping trips, will be reserves operated as part of the UC Natural Reserve System.  Visits are limited to university-level research and education and not fully open to the public.  We are able to visit and stay at these reserves under a special permit.  There are on-going studies and restoration projects occurring here, so it is imperative that you respect restricted areas & conduct yourself professionally
For the long weekends, we will be camping in wilderness areas.  There is a kitchen/meeting area, showers and outhouses.  Alcohol & illegal drugs are not permitted. Violating the student code of conduct including posession of alchol or drugs will result in your immediate dismissal from the course.

Information and location of the reserves we will be camping at can be found on these websites:


We will be visiting local field sites, some with limited parking so car-pooling will be imperative.  On the long weekends, group transportation via vans or bus will be provided.


We will be working in a variety of local field sites including chaparral, forest, rocky intertidal, mudflats, marshes, open fields, and creek.  Wear clothes appropriate for use in the field including: sturdy, comfortable shoes, sunhat, sunglasses, long pants, jacket. Bring clothes that will protect you from thorns, poison oak, and insect bites. Be prepared to get wet and dirty.

Also see the Equipment List


Research Equipment:

We will be using a wide range of research equipment – from transect tapes to binoculars to computers.  This only works if we all take responsibility for caring for it, and making sure it gets put back so that others can use it.  Be conscientious.  Also, it is common that equipment breaks or needs maintenance.  We won’t yell at you or charge you extra for breaking stuff (unless it’s been gross negligence!).  Don’t put away a damaged or non-functional piece of equipment.  Give it to us so that we can fix it or replace it.



Grading Scheme:

Activity Point Value
Participation – class & field excerises 200 pts
Field Journal (first entry) 20 pts
Field Journal (final)

220 pts

Field Lead 200 pts
Group Research Proposal Presentation 300 pts
Total 940





Students will be evaluated on their level of participation and engagement in each lecture and field activity.  Participation and attendance is more than just showing up. 

  • It requires you do the reading for each technique prior to the lab.
  • It involves helping set up exercises, collecting data, participation in planning sessions, participating in class discussions and helping your fellow students. 
  • Participation includes demonstrating active involvement in class activities. 

The assignment of points will be the result of a combination of observations made by your instructors and the observations and input of your fellow classmates. 


Field Journal

Students are required to write and turn-in field notes in an organized notebook. We will grade your first notebook entry to provide you with feedback and set you in the right direction. A lesson on field note techniques will be given in the first lecture. You will be expected to take notes on each activity.

Your notebook will be graded and returned to you during the final class meeting. See the Field Notebook grading rubric


TA for the Day:

Pairs of students will lead one of the field excursions.  The leaders will research the techniques to be used in the field and teach that technique to their group.

The assignment consists of the following:

  • A write-up will be due one week prior to day consisting of
    • step by step instructions on collecting data including necessary equipment,
    • notes on the benefits & limitations of the particular technique, and
    • the utility of this technique for other ecosystems.
  • Acting as team leaders for a group of students during the field excursion.  During this time you must ensure that your team is conducting the research correctly, collecting clear data, and working well together.
  • Collection of all data collected by your team. You must go over each datasheet with each data collector to ensure that the data is accurate and readable.
  • Entry of data into an Excel file. 
  • Provide a post-trip write-up that includes the data, brief analysis of it (average values, significant conclusions, important findings etc.), and a summary of the trip including what worked, what the challenges were to quality data collection.

See the TA for the Day grading rubric.


Research Proposal & Presentation:

Students will work in teams of 3-4 to create a proposal for a project that involves collection of data in the field.  The project will be presented orally to the class at the end of the semester and will be considered your final exam.  You will have 15-20 minutes for this presentation.  Each person in the team is required to contribute and present the project.

Your project must involve the following sections:

    1. Research question & hypothesis: come up with a question that is testable and present it as a hypothesis (for example, “Butterflies at Ellwood will be in their highest abundance during the warmest part of the spring season”)

    2. Justification for why this question is of interest:  This can be short, but the goal is to “sell” your idea – why would someone want to fund you to do this study?  How will it advance our knowledge about this system or others?

    3. Background & Methods:  This will be the most detailed portion.  Describe in detail exactly how and where you will conduct your research.  You must refer to at least 2 published scientific papers or relevant ‘grey literature’ documents (i.e., government/organization handbooks) that have used this method.  Discuss why this is the best method.  Discuss the constraints of the method. 

    4. Logistics: Provide a list of all field equipment you would need, the locations of your study, how often you would need to visit the sites, and the duration of your study.  In a true proposal, this would also be where your budget would be derived from, which would include purchase of equipment, gear rental, and money to pay yourself and helpers for both time in the field and data entry.

    5. Predictions: what do you expect to find?  You may want to create a general graph showing what you think your data would look like.  What would it look like if your hypothesis was incorrect – would the data you collected allow you to still provide insights into the question? 

    6. Preliminary Data/Proof of Concept: You will be given time during the field trips to create a trial run of data collection.  Your group will be expected to plan in advance, ensure we bring the required equipment, and conduct some field work that will show that the type of data you are proposing can be reasonably collected.  You will provide some preliminary data & basic analyses of your data (e.g., graphs) in the final presentation to show that your idea is workable. This section should present the methods used, summarize the data collected, and briefly discuss the validity of your method and what you learned about the data collection – ie, what you would change, if anything, for the actual project.

You will also be graded on group work and presentation skills (audible, well-explained, visuals to aid in explanation, teamwork ability, ability to answer questions). See the Final Project grading rubric.


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Revised 9 December, 2014
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