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Winter Ecology

(EFB 484/684) - 3 credits



Stacy A. McNulty (SAM)
Adirondack Ecological Center
6312 State Route 28N, Newcomb, NY 12852

Course Description

This lecture and field course explores adaptations of animals and plants for surviving the winter in northern latitudes.  The course presents species identification, natural history, behavior, ecology and winter strategies. One hour per week of asynchronous on-line instruction, plus ten-days of field instruction during one weekend in February and during March break in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.  Spring Semester.  Evaluation of students is based on 1) participation in classroom and field experiences, 2) oral critique of a scientific article on winter adaptations, 3) proficiency in a written final examination and 4) maintenance of a field journal.

Learning Outcomes

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  1. Describe organisms' morphological, physiological and behavioral adaptations to living in the cold for vertebrates, invertebrates and plants.
  2. Demonstrate field methods to measure and describe the importance of attributes of snow, ice, vegetation and landform to survival of animals and plants in winter
  3. Show proficiency with preparation for winter field work including for data collection and navigating with compass, maps and geographic positioning system (GPS)
  4. Perform biological monitoring protocols appropriate for winter field conditions (e.g., live-trapping of small mammals, camera-trapping, vegetation mapping, water chemistry).
  5. Document observational field data in writing
  6. Create and present a high-quality oral/slide presentation on winter adaptations of animals and answer questions about the presented material
  7. Critically evaluate data and literature and understand ecological research


(subject to change; weather dependent)

February Weekend

Day Morning Afternoon Evening
Friday   Lecture - Welcome, introduction and organization of course 
Field Activity- Aquatic species
Lecture - Adirondack species part I
Saturday Lecture - Track identification primer 
Field Activity - Track identification 
Lecture - Movements of white-tailed deer
Lecture - Protocol for trail cameras and snow morphology measurements 
Field Activity- Trail camera set up and snow morphology measurements at group study sites
Lecture - Adirondack species part II

Sunday QUIZ - Taxonomy of ADK Mammals
Lecture - Winter ecology of white-tailed deer 
Depart for Syracuse  


March Week

Day Morning Afternoon Evening
Sunday   Lecture - Welcome and organization of week 
Lecture - Protocol for studying activity of small mammals 
Field Activity - Establish live-trapping sites and snow morphology measurements 
Lecture - Introduction: Adaptations to cold (thermoregulation and energy balance) 
Field Activity - Set live traps and snow measurements
Monday Field Activity - Monitor live traps and snow measurement
Lecture - Fun Flaky Facts 
Lecture - Torpor and hibernation
Lecture - Bears 
Lecture - Body size, insulation, appendages and coloration 
Lecture - Behavior 
Field Activity - Set live traps and snow measurements
Tuesday Field Activity - Monitor live traps and snow measurements
Lecture - Moose 
Field Activity - Snow shelter construction
Lecture/Field Activity- Mustelids
Field Activity - Snow shelter construction continued
Grad Student Oral presentations
Field Activity - Set live traps and snow measurements
Wednesday Field Activity - Monitor live traps and snow measurements - conclude small mammal trapping
Lecture - Increase in thermogenic capacity
Field Activity - Retrieve trail cameras/snow measurements
Lecture - Richness and diversity indices
Oral presentations 
Thursday Lecture - Coyotes 
Field Activity - Energy Loss
Lecture - Bats
Lecture - Winter plants
Oral presentations 
Friday Lecture Field Activity - Snowshoe and course culmination TBA
Saturday Final examinations (Lecture and Laboratory) Student depart (noon)