Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

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Field Activities

Field biology is an important part of the field of biology. In general, field biology operates at the level of the organism, community, ecosystem, or landscape and encompasses the fields of ecology, environmental science and organismal biology. Field biologists use nature as a laboratory to develop and test biological questions. Because of the complexity of the natural world, field biology tends to integrate both biological and physical attributes of the environment. This complexity requires considerable attention to experimental design in order to design and conduct experiments that control for confounding variables while still maintaining inference. Accordingly, most field biologists conduct experimental manipulations of conditions and/or organisms as part of their work. This complexity also put a premium on statistics in testing hypotheses. Therefore, students who study field biology in class or in their research develop strong quantitative and experimental design skills. Additional benefits to field biology include the joy of being in the outdoors and the ability to develop natural history skills and increase appreciate for organisms and the environment.


Field biology plays an important role in biology and in conservation. For example our understanding of the evolution of life is derived from both reductionist approaches in the lab and field studies of organisms interacting with their environment. Field biology aims to understand and predict how organisms respond to long-term environmental variation. F&M field biologists work in a variety of local (Millport Conservancy, Lancaster County Central Park, Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area), regional (Lacawac Sanctuary in the Pocono Mountains), national (Harvard Forest, and international (Canadian Rocky Mountains, Belize, Argentina).


The Biology department of Franklin & Marshall College has a particular strength in Field Biology, especially for a liberal arts college. Four faculty specialize in field biology research: Tim Sipe (plant physiological and community ecology), Janet Fischer (community ecology and limnology of alpine lakes), Mark Olson (freshwater ecology and fisheries biology), and Dan Ardia (evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology of birds and insects). Several other faculty members utilize field-collected organisms and their environmental context in their research: Peter Fields (biochemical adaptation), Joe Thompson (ontogeny of muscle development), and Jamie Blair (evolutionary genomics and bioinformatics). In addition, two full-time visiting faculty and research associates integrate field and laboratory studies in their work: Jorge Mena-Ali (plant reproductive ecology and evolution) and Brian Barringer (Evolution and ecology of plant mating systems).
Courses with a strong field focus offered in the Biology department include Bio 323 Ecology, Bio 342 Forest Ecosystems, Bio 340 Plant Ecology, Bio 325 Marine Biology, Bio 336 Evolution. In addition, students in our introductory course Bio 110 Principles of Evolution, Ecology & Heredity spend time in the field during the laboratory portion of the course. Additional field studies options can be found in the Department of Earth and Environment.