Chris Petersen

Chris Petersen
207-801-5705 | | faculty website

chris petersenChris Petersen has been a faculty member at COA since 1990, where he teaches a range of classes in marine biology, evolution, field ecology, molecular biology and policy. He also is actively engaged in research with students and with researchers at other universities. He has worked with undergraduates on Mount Desert Island, at multiple locations in the Caribbean, and the Pacific Northwest, and is currently collaborating with researchers from the University of Padova, Italy, UC Santa Barbara, and Scripps Institute of Oceanography as well as several groups in Maine including the Penobscot East Resource Center and Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Current student research projects include work on the ecology of local estuarine and anadromous fishes, historical ecology in Frenchman's Bay, and collaborative policy development with local communities, while continuing his broader work on the reproductive biology of fishes. Chris has published over 50 papers in a variety of professional journals and books, including recent papers with COA students as coauthors.

B.A. University of California, Santa Barbara, 1976
Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 1985

Courses Taught

ES1010Biology I

This is the first half of a 20-week, two-term introductory course in biology, providing an overview of the discipline and prerequisite for many intermediate and advanced biology courses.  The course provides an integrative view of the attributes of plants and animals, including cell biology, physiology, reproduction, genetics and evolution, growth and differentiation, anatomy, behavior, and environmental interactions.  Weekly laboratory sessions or field trips augment material covered in lecture and discussion.  Attendance at three lectures and one lab each week is required; course evaluation is based on quality of class participation, exams, problem sets, preparation of a lab notebook, and a written term paper. 

Level: Introductory.  Prerequisites: College-level algebra (by course, assessment,) or signature of instructors, chemistry helpful.  Lab fee: $25.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES4042Ecological Research in Aquatic Ecosystems

This course is an intensive field course that focuses on research design, collaborative fieldwork, and data analysis and interpretation for ecological studies done in local aquatic ecosystems.  Within the broad category of aquatic habitats the course focuses on intertidal mudflats and streams.  Both of these habitats have ongoing field research and restoration work where faculty and students can make substantial contributions to local applied research while learning methodologies and rationale for various types of research.  Potential project partners and collaborators include Acadia National Park, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife.  Somes-Meynell Sanctuary, Town of Bar Harbor Marine Resources Committee, Frenchman Bay Regional Shellfish Committee, Frenchman Bay Partners, the George Mitchell Center at the University of Maine and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. This class meets twice weekly with an additional lab period that will include some weekend days. Evaluation will be based on homework, short-answer essays and work with 1-2 other students as co-leaders on one of the small-group projects in the class.

Level: Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisites: At least two classes in ecology, evolution, or biology and a course in chemistry or geology, and permission of instructor.  Class limit: 14.  Lab fee: $40. Meets the following degree requirements: ES


This course provides students with the opportunity to put their knowledge of ecology and diversity into an evolutionary framework.  The emphasis is on how populations of organisms are currently evolving, with a focus on the ecological context of natural selection.  Topics in the course include the genetic basis of evolutionary change, selection and adaptation, reproductive effort, co-evolution, the ecology and evolution of sex, behavioral ecology, speciation, and applied evolutionary ecology.  In addition to a textbook, students read several original research articles.  The course has two lectures and one discussion section per week.  Evaluations are based on exams and short essay sets.

Level:  Intermediate.  Prerequisite:  Biology I and II or equivalent.  Offered every other year.  Class limit: 20.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES191Field Ecology and Data Analysis

This course teaches students how to collect data in the field (outside), how to descriptively and quantitatively analyze these data using spreadsheet and statistical programs, and how to present the information in the form of a report or scientific paper. Some of the projects are experimental, while some are observational. There are four field projects during the term, and the tentative project areas are one terrestrial plant, one terrestrial animal, one marine, and one independent project. The methods learned will most likely include measuring population and demographic parameters, quantifying behavior, and estimating community composition. In addition to taking data in the field, students spend a substantial amount of time learning and applying statistical techniques to describe and analyze data. Lecture material includes designing data collection procedures, statistical analysis, and problem solving. Evaluations are based on write-ups of field exercises, homework on statistical techniques, oral presentations of work, and class participation. Level: Advanced. Prerequisite: Signature of Instructor; intermediate level Ecology or similar courses are helpful. Offered approximately every other year. Class limit: 15. Lab fee $ 20. *ES* *QR*

ES1028Marine Biology

This is a broad course, covering the biology of organisms in various marine habitats (rocky intertidal, mud and sand, estuaries, open ocean, coral reefs, deep sea), and some policy and marine management and conservation issues. The largest part of this course is focused on learning to identify and understand the natural history and ecology of the marine flora and fauna of New England, with an emphasis on the rocky intertidal of Mount Desert Island.  The course meets twice per week with one afternoon for laboratory work or field trips.  Evaluations are based on the quality of participation in class, one in-class practical, several sets of essay questions, and a field notebook emphasizing natural history notes of local organisms.  This class is intended for first year students, who will have priority during registration.  Returning students may take this course only with permission of the instructor.   

Level: Introductory.  Prerequisites:  Signature of instructor for returning students.  Offered at least every other year.  Class limit:  20.  Lab fee:  $60.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES4032Marine Ecology

This course is intended for students who have some familiarity with the natural history and ecology of local marine organisms and are eager to take their understanding to the next level in the context of an intensive summer course.  The class will meet all day, every day for 15 days, and will comprise several parts, including lecture and discussion of papers from the primary literature, field trips to explore diversity of local habitats, and several research projects.  We will work together on two class projects.  One will involve the reproductive biology of mummichogs, a small, estuarine fish that is locally abundant.  Although not on the scale of wild salmon runs, mummichog spawning is a frenzied spectacle of nature involving dozens of fish simultaneously releasing gametes in the shallows at high tide.  Students will collect data on spawning behavior and patterns of survivorship among eggs laid at intertidal sites.  The other class project will involve population biology of three species of intertidal snails and how parameters such as species abundance and diversity, size-frequency distribution, and population density vary among populations on various small coastal islands.  We will access these islands for censusing via sea kayak, and students interested in learning more about safety and navigation in sea kayaks will have that opportunity.  We may include an overnight trip if weather and timing permit.  Finally, students will also design their own independent projects, and they will meet individually with instructors to discuss hypothesis generation, experimental design, data collection and analysis, and final communication of results.  The final day of class will involve a presentation of individual projects.  Students will be evaluated on participation on the class projects and other activities, short written assignments, and the quality of the final project.  

Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisites: Marine Biology, Invertebrate Zoology or an intermediate-level course in ecology or behavior and permission of instructor. Class limit: 16.  Lab fee: $80 Meets the following degree requirements: ES

MD4010Marine Policy

According to the Chair of the Pew Oceans Commission, "America's oceans are in a state of crisis. Pollution, unplanned coastal development, and the loss of fisheries, habitat, and wildlife threaten the health of the oceans and the tens of thousands of jobs that form the backbone of coastal communities." This course will provide a general understanding of both marine resources and current regional, national, and international policy regarding these resources.  Because oceans and the life they support transcend national and state boundaries, the course will explore international, national, and local oceanpolicy-making frameworks, including specific legislation addressing fisheries, coastal development, species protection, pollution, and resource extraction.  We will examine some of the controversies that exist in marine environments today using historical case studies of ocean management policy.  These case studies include management of Atlantic salmon, tuna-dolphin interactions, off-shore oil drilling, and New England fisheries.  Because of the interdisciplinary nature of these problems, it is necessary to understand how scientists and policy makers think about the same issues, how they attempt to solve problems, and how these two views can be brought together successfully. Assessment will include several question sets, a final small group paper and presentation that investigates a current marine policy issue, and class participation.

Level:  Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites: Background in the biological sciences and environmental policy and permission of Instructors.  Course fee $20.

ES4024Molecular Evolutionary Genetics

This is a hands-on laboratory course in molecular genetics, focusing on genomic DNA isolation, genomic library construction and amplification of molecular markers by polymerase chain reaction. The course will be taught over the two-week spring break period (8 hour days, Monday through Friday), with additional meetings during spring term to discuss results, work on papers or posters and continue with some advanced reading. Participants in the course will be introduced to a variety of molecular techniques that can be used to investigate population genetics of animal species. In particular, we plan to have students apply newly learned techniques to marine species, with an emphasis on shark and skate species. The curriculum will mix hands on laboratory work with lectures and potential seminars by leading molecular ecologists. The course will meet at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory during spring break and at COA during the spring term and will culminate in research presentations to the MDIBL and COA community.  Student evaluation will be based on required attendance over the entire short course, knowledge and practical use of the molecular techniques, and participation in the laboratory and the class presentation.   

Level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Lab fee: Paid through INBRE grant.  Prerequisites: Signature of Instructor.  Class limit: 12.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES2018Probability and Statistics

This course provides an introduction to probability and statistics. Its goal is to give students a good understanding of what kinds of questions statistical analyses can answer and how to interpret statistical results in magazines, books, and articles from a wide range of disciplines.  The course begins with understanding probability and how it can often lead to nonintuitive results.  Types of statistical analyses discussed in the second part of the course include comparisons of averages, correlation and regression, and applying confidence limits to estimates of studies from both the social and biological sciences.  Application of statistics to specific research problems is covered in greater depth in more advanced courses such as advanced statistics and field ecology and data analysis.  Evaluation is based on class participation, problem sets, and quizzes, and an independent project.  

Level:  Introductory/Intermediate.  Offered approximately every other year.  Class limit: 15.  Lab fee $10.00   Meets the following degree requirements: QR

ES4034Topics in Biomedical Research

This course covers a broad range of topics in genetics, cellular and molecular biology, and human and public health.  Research scientists from the Jackson Laboratory, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, as well as clinical researchers will each run a week of the course.  The format will include two meetings per week; each visiting instructor will give a general seminar on their area of expertise and then lead a discussion on their specific research topic and recent papers from the primary literature.  Assessment will be based on a series of short summaries of papers during the term and a term paper on an area of interest to the student.  The seminar will be supervised on campus by Helen Hess.  

Level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequistes: Genetics, Molecular Evolution Genetics, or Cellular and Molecular Biology or the permission of the instructor.  Lab fees: none.  Course limit: 10.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES305Tropical Marine Ecology

This course in tropical marine ecology explores topics including organismal diversity, natural history of fish, invertebrates, algae, habitat diversity (coral reefs, mangroves, etc.), fisheries, and conservation. Students meet as a class weekly, alternating between a single three-hour evening seminar session and individual meetings with the instructors to discuss primary readings and research projects. In addition, this course includes a required 18-day field trip to the Yucatan over winter break. Field work is based out of Akumal on the Yucatan peninsula. Level: Intermediate/Advanced. Prerequisites: a strong performance in previous classes (especially biology), the ability to work well as a member of a group, and enthusiasm; permission of instructors required. Class limit: 8-14 students. Lab fee: estimated at $1200. *ES*

ES519Tutorial: Advanced Evolutionary Ecology Seminar

This advanced seminar takes a topic within evolutionary ecology and examines it using a wide range of sources staring with classic evolutionary texts and moving forward to current primary literature. Students need to be capable of reading and critiquing primary literature, understanding statistical tests of hypotheses, and be ready to move among diverse taxonomic groups and theoretical work. Readings include papers in evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology, and life-history theory. The seminar will meet twice weekly. Assessment will be based on student participation in the seminar and multiple short writing assignments. Level: Advanced, Permission of Instructor required, Class Limit: 5

ES522Tutorial: Advanced Marine Resource Policy Seminar

This advanced tutorial brings together professors, students, and individuals from outside the college to discuss current issues in marine resource policy. Working with individuals from the Penobscot Bay Resource Center as well as others with knowledge of marine resource policy, the goal of this seminar is to examine one specific topic each year of the seminar and produce a policy white paper summarizing the findings and conclusions of the group that will be made publicly available. The initial goal is to have 2-4 professors, 1-5 students, and 2-4 individuals from outside the institution research current information on a topic, potentially conduct their own research, and apply meta-analyses or other appropriate analytical tools to the collected data and write a summary document that can help inform the management of marine resources. The group will typically meet twice per week, with additional meetings of subgroups throughout the term. Because the topic of the seminar changes between years, students may take this seminar for multiple years for credit. Pre-requisites: Background in environmental policy and biology. Permission required. Class limit: 5