Natural History is the deliberate observation of plants and animals in their environment. Field Ecology is grounded in Natural History, but goes beyond observation, seeking to test hypothesis, often via experiments in the field.
Nature lives out there—not in the laboratory or library. So in all biology classes we emphasize the importance of understanding the organism in its natural environment and the role humans have played in shaping that environment. We get students in the field as soon as possible, often in their first term in classes such as Ecology/Natural History, Marine Biology, or The Geology of MDI.
All of the biologists on the COA faculty focus on biology of “intact” organisms in their natural environments—a rarity in this age of genetics and molecules. We do, of course, teach genetics and other cellular and molecular biology classes, but we never lose sight of the centrality of organisms and their environments. COA biology faculty emphasize natural history and field ecology throughout the biology curriculum.
Field Ecology & Natural History
What are habitats? Can nature be in balance?
With faculty mentors, COA students come up with their own research questions, write grant proposals, and present their results at meetings of national and international scientific societies.
While we emphasize the importance of environment and habitat, it is important to recognize that habitats can be complex and subtle. The boundaries between habitats are porous, if such boundaries can be said to exist at all. Furthermore, the notion of, say, typical grassland, is a much like typical college student—both are stereotypes and generalizations that obscure variety and variation. We resist the tendency to see nature as good, harmonious, or in balance. As often as not we see a world that is dynamic and variable, constantly in flux.
If you choose to study Field Ecology and Natural History at COA you will spend lots time in the field as well as in the classroom and lab. You will learn about the habits and life histories of species in Maine and elsewhere. Along the way, expect to have your notions about nature and natural communities challenged and complexified. You will come to experience the natural world as a dynamic and evolving set of species and environments.