Teaching Wetland Ecology: What If You Can't Take Students Into the Field?
While on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), I recently taught a first course in Wetland Ecology to upper-level undergraduates and graduate students in biology. The lecture component was a broad survey of topics, including wetland definitions and classification, wetland indicators (hydrology, hydric soils, vegetation), biological adaptations, community and ecosystem processes, functions and values, and wetlands regulation. I structured the course to combine these lectures with hands-on field trips and activities, but a field laboratory is not always a feasible option for some instructors. So how can one make wetland science more "real" to students in a lecture course, and in a more challenging way than a term paper assignment? Here I describe a successful library-based project that directs each student to research a wetland site by using a variety of available data sources. I adapted the idea from a similar exercise developed by a UWM colleague who teaches a limnology course in which students compile data on a "favorite lake" of their choice.