Jump to content


Environmental Studies Field Biology

Recommended Posts

My expertise is in plant ecology and I noted in another thread that I wanted to put together a field course for my kids when they get a bit older. Someone in that thread asked me to post some of the resources I had for such a course, so here goes! I think I'll split it into 3 posts- and hope it is useful for someone!



Some resources for environmental studies


Soils and geology


USGS and the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) maintain online soils maps of the entire country. You can zoom in on your area and get a soils map and description of the soils. You can also download soil surveys for your county. Make sure you check out the Soil Biology Primer to learn about the amazing life in the soil. USGS also maintains geologic survey information- for most states you can download a geologic map that covers your area.


Forest Service and BLM. If you have either of these land management agencies in your state, check out their web pages. For example, the Idaho BLM has a large number of technical references that have been published over the years that describe vegetation of particular areas, animal and bird species of interest, and other natural features.


Research Natural Areas. http://rna.nris.state.mt.us/ provides a database of Research Natural Areas for most of western US. There is probably something comparable for the eastern parts. The database links to individual natural area writeups so you can visit one with a guidebook in hand and check out all the cool things.


Check out your state (and nearby state) extension system. For example at the Oregon Extension site I found (all online):

Stream*A*Syst: A Tool To Help You Examine Stream Conditions on Your Property

Taking Care of Streams in Western Washington, Western Oregon, and Coastal Alaska: A Homeowner’s Guide

Taking Care of Streams in Western Washington, Western Oregon, and Coastal Alaska: A Landowner’s Guide to Riparian Areas

Taking Care of Streams in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and Alaska: A Guide to Riparian Areas in Rangelands

Tools for Measuring Your Forest

Insects: Taking a Deeper Look at the World of Bugs

…and a large number of other publications for not much $$


Natural resources in your state

Many states maintain a natural resource database.

Try Natural Heritage Programs (there’s one in nearly every state) for rare plants and animals.

Check out University websites for links

Try googling “natural resources of ***†or “birds of **†etc for your state

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My plan for a course was more a vegetation monitoring course so I have a list of resources and websites (and yes, I might as well admit I’m the Caryl in the fifth reference down…)

(for a bit of what I'm thinking about, see an example of a college course by Karen Launchbaugh at Uof Idaho here:



Herrick, J.E., J.W. Van Zee, K.M. Havstad, L.M. Burkett, and W.G. Whitford. 2005. Monitoring Manual for Grassland, Shrubland and Savanna Ecosystems, Volume I: Quick Start. Volume II: Design, Supplementary Methods and Interpretation. USDA - ARS Jornada Experimental Range, Las Cruces, NM.

Both volumes available at:




Bonham, C. D., S. G. Bousquin, and D. Tazik. 2001. Protocols and Models for Inventory, Monitoring, and Management of Threatened and Endangered Plants. Online at:



Coulloudon, Bill, et al. 1999. Sampling vegetation attributes: Interagency technical reference, Second Revision. Technical Reference 1734-4, 163 pp. Denver, CO: USDI Bureau of Land Management, National Applied Resource Sciences Center.



Hall, F. C. 2002a. Photo Point Monitoring Handbook: Part A-Field Procedures. Pp.1-48 in U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service General Technical Report PNW-GTR-526. (Available online at http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/gtr526


Pellant, M., Shaver, P., Pyke, D.A., Herrick, J.E., 2005, Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health Version 4: Technical Reference 1734-6, Denver, Colorado, Bureau of Land Management, National Science and Technology Center, 122 p.




Elzinga, Caryl L.; Daniel W. Salzer; and John W. Willoughby. 1998. Measuring and monitoring plant populations. Technical Reference 1730-1, 477 pp. Denver, CO: USDI Bureau of Land Management. http://www.blm.gov/nstc/library/techref.htm.


The book form of this technical reference is updated and the book includes methods for monitoring animal populations, as well as plant communities, but it's pretty spendy:

Elzinga, C. L, D. W. Salzer, J. W. Willoughby, and J. P. Gibbs. 2001. Monitoring Plant and Animal Populations. Blackwell Science, Inc., MaIden, MA.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Books about measuring vegetation



Bonham, C. D. 1989. Measurements for Terrestrial Vegetation. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY. This book is quite accessible even for high school students.



Greig-Smith, P. 1983. Quantitative Plant Ecology, 3rd edition. Press, University of CaliforniaBerkeley, CA. Focuses more on community measurements and their analysis (which gets into multivariate methods beyond the skills of most high schoolers) but the book has a few chapters on field methods that are quite good.



Krebs, C. J. 1999. Ecological Methodology, 2nd edition. Benjamin/Cummings, New York, NY. This one of the standard references for methodology (the 2nd edition is the most recent). It is expensive, and even used ones can run over $100! Can maybe get it on interlibrary loan.



Krebs, C.J. 2008. Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance (6th Edition). Benjamin/ Cummings, New York. This is the standard text. It is expensive, but there are a lot of editions, and an older one would be fine. This is what I was planning to use a text. There are several other good ecology texts out there that would also be fine: Begon’s Ecology, from Individuals to Ecosystems; Townsend’s Essentials of Ecology and Cain’s Ecology



Stohlgren, T.J. 2007. Measuring plant diversity: lessons from the field. New York: Oxford University Press. 390p. Newish book, and deals with communities and diversity indices. Stohlgren has some online publications (he did a lot of work for the Forest Service on monitoring FS lands) and some of his stuff can be ordered from FS Experiment Stations. Since it’s applied (for land management agencies) it’s fairly accessible.



If you have an advanced student that has had statistics:


Zar, J. H. 1999. Biostatistical Analysis, 4th edition. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ



Biometry: The Principles and Practices of Statistics in Biological Research by Robert R. Sokal and F. James Rohlf (which I actually like better, but most wildlife and plant folks use Zar).



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...