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Out of the classroom, into the wild

Queen’s biology course goes hands-on in the forests of Mexico.

Queen's in the World

From Feb. 14-27, a group of Queen’s biology students had the experience of a lifetime during a two-week field course in Jalisco, Mexico.

A collaborative effort between Queen’s and the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, this combined undergraduate and graduate course provided students with the rare opportunity to explore the rich biological diversity of western Mexico’s cloud forests and dry tropical forests, and to study a range of exotic animals and plants in their native habitats.

Drs. Lougheed (Biology), Wang (Biology) and Ortiz (Universidad Michoacana) are photographed on Isla Pajarera - Bird Island. The three co-led the field course, which gaves students from Queen's and Universidad Michoacana the opportunity to spend two weeks hands-on with a wide array of plants and animals in two Mexican field stations. (Supplied Photo)

Stephen Lougheed (Biology) led the course along with Queen’s colleague Yuxiang Wang (Biology) and Javier Salgado Ortiz, a Queen’s biology alumnus and now professor at Universidad Michoacana. Dr. Lougheed says the course allowed both Canadian and Mexican students to experience first-hand ecological interactions and species that they may have studied in the classroom, as well as learn about other cultures and research from other regions of the world.

“One of the highlights for students was interacting with professors and fellow students in a field context from dawn to well past dusk,” says Dr. Lougheed. “I think that changes the perspective a lot – seeing not only the tremendous research being conducted, but some of the challenges faced by field biologists as well.”

Students pose in front of the sign at Estación Cientifica Las Joyas - one of two field stations visited during the course. (Supplied Photo).

During their two weeks in the field, the class visited two field stations: Estación de Biología Chamela and Estación Cientifica Las Joyas. In Las Joyas, the students explored the cloud forests – a type of evergreen montane tropical forest famous for its high humidity, low-level cloud cover, and unique diversity. The students studied aspects of the ecology of some of the animals and plants inhabiting the forest, gathering data that will be evaluated for a final project they will complete upon their return.

Students also visited Isla Pajarera – Bird Island – where they observed American oystercatchers, magnificent frigate birds, brown boobies, and other varieties of birds associated with these coastal environments. Dr. Lougheed says that, while the logistics of traveling to remote research locations can be a challenge, these immersive learning opportunities more than make up for it.

“We try to teach these courses in locales that are somewhat remote and relatively pristine,” explains Dr. Lougheed. “Located on the border between the Neotropic and Nearctic biogeographic realms, Jalisco has exceptional diversity and a unique mix of species. There is some terrific ecological research being done here by Mexican scientists, as well as important conservation initiatives.”

While the course may sound like a vacation, the students and professors were kept plenty busy with seminars, field exercises, long hikes, and research for their final assignment.

Throughout the course, students posted daily summaries of the course to a course blog. To learn more about field course offerings, please visit the Queen’s Biology Department website.

Queen’s offers a number of opportunities for students to undertake international study experiences – through field courses abroad, exchange programs, or studying at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC). For more information, please visit the Queen’s University International website.