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About Autumn Winter Spring Summer

Summer Materials

The summer field study course involves the most complex ecological studies and relies more extensively on knowledge from previous seasons. Many of these activities take advantage of summer conditions such as warmer water temperatures. Practical skills are applied to complex environmental monitoring lessons focusing on streams, rivers, grasslands and forests.

  1. School Herbarium
  2. Flora Inventory
  3. Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Forest Invertebrates (Part 2)
  5. Birds Nesting Behavior
  6. Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. Aquatic Invertebrates and Environmental Status
  8. Plankton in the Littoral Zone of a Water-body
  9. Environmental Status of Meadows
  10. Status of Forests Based on Asymmetry of Tree Leaves

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write to in a free form.

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Lesson #1: School Herbarium (see the manual "Making a Herbarium")
This field technique is the introduction to the summer ecological field studies sequence and is devoted to skills, which are necessary for subsequent botanical lessons.
Guidelines for plant collection include not collecting rare and beautiful plants. Students should collect samples of typical plants, medium size, not the most beautiful and not wilted. Plants should be dug out as a whole including roots and stems.
Plant specimens are put into newspapers and then into a herbarium folder. Each leaf should be spread out, and some placed with their underside up. Flowers are arranged the same way.
When returning to school, plants from the folder are placed into herbarium netting. All plants are examined and, if necessary, repositioned.
In order to insure that flowers do not change their color during drying, they should be salted or interlaid with salted dry paper. The same should be done with large flowers, which have been flattened and spread out by hand.
A nice visual collection of mosses and lichens can be made with the help of Petri dishes with covers. Each Petri dish is fixed on a board with a pair of nails with wide heads. Petri dishes can be removed from the board for closer examination.
In the course of this activity, students may also study species diversity, habitat preferences, variations within species and other aspects of the plants life cycles and ecology. In the process students also learn techniques for the preservation of museum quality plant specimens.


In this field study students compile a complete list of flora species growing in a given area. The main objective of this activity is compilation of the most complete list of plant species possible.
When planning the study try to visit as many different plant communities in the area as possible: from forest to meadows, from floodlands to watersheds, from wet to dry, from young to old, etc.
It is best to conduct the floristic study in the form of standard geobotanical descriptions at field sites; tree layer is described first, then the shrubby layer and finally grass and moss-lichen layers are described.
The botanical studies consists in identification of the greatest number of species at the site. The students' role is to find as many different species as possible. It is also convenient to combine this activity with construction of a school herbarium.
When performing this work, it is necessary to take into account seasonality of the flora. Students must understand that one survey of all available biotopes will never result in a complete list of species.
Field studies in search of new species should be carried out several times a season, starting in early spring, in June and at the end of summer in order to compile a complete flora inventory of a specific area.
The lab aspect of this study includes the identification of plants which have been collected in the course of the class field excursion. This activity results in a list of flora species divided according to plant communities.


Lesson #3: Vertical Structure of a Forest (see the manual "Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest")
This field study helps students learn practical skills of summer vegetation description using the example of a forest multilayered community.
When selecting a study site, it is best to choose a forest, which is visually subdivided into a small number of layers, for example, a layer of prime forest stand, layer of young growth along with an understory, and a herbaceous-shrub layer.
The first step is the delineation of the study site. This stage of the work includes general description of the site location: its geographical position, position of the site in relief, as well as specific features of the surrounding territory.
All data is to be recorded by students in a standard form of plant association description, which has been developed for convenience of the collection and recording of the information during the study.
Measurements are carried out for all trees typical for the top layer or canopy of the forest. Young trees of the primary canopy of the forest are described with special attention paid to young seedlings promoting the process of reforestation.
The understory, species that will not become part of the top forest canopy, are also described. Finally students record data on the herbaceous-shrub layer and when possible the main plant species structure, and projective cover are estimated.
Following the field excursion, a diagram of layered (vertical) structure of the forest should be composed for the observed plant associations. Students construct the diagram in the form of a vertical forest section with corresponding descriptions.


The second part of forest invertebrate field studies (see spring lesson 5 for part 1) focuses on procedures for studying invertebrates found during the summer season in the period of leaf growth and tree crown development.
Field studies begin with an understanding of the ecological groups of invertebrates and specific procedures for their study. There are specific methods of collection and census for each ecological group of invertebrates, as well as specific instruments for their collection.
The main strategy for invertebrate collection in the grass layer is so-called mowing, this is efficient for non-flying insects, sitting on flowers and in the top grass canopy.
Collection of invertebrates found in crowns of large trees is a different strategy. Typically the shaking down method is used. White cloth like a large sheet or twofold polyethylene film for gardening is laid under the study tree.
It is more accurate to estimate density of forest invertebrates by using a plastic film tube or big plastic garbage bag, into which a whole branch of the tree is placed. The branch is then shaken down inside the bag. This procedure catches almost 100% of the organisms.
Field study techniques for diurnal flying invertebrates - mainly butterflies - recommend visual census of butterflies along routes of constant width and to identify species without catching individuals.
Catching nocturnal insects is quite another matter. However, we also recommend not collecting beautiful butterflies. Nevertheless, catching in the light on a dark night is interesting.
Identification of invertebrates is a laborious and technical activity. It is recommended for student researchers to estimate species diversity, that is, the number of invertebrate species under different conditions.


Lesson #5: Birds Nesting Behavior (see the manual "Study of Birds’ Nesting Life")
This field study helps students organize stationary ornithological studies and become familiar with the habits of wild birds.
It is easier and more convenient to organize a study of birds' nesting biology with the help of hanging artificial nesting boxes, that were made in spring. Nesting Boxes should be hung no later than March so that birds will be able to occupy them in the beginning of breeding season.
If nesting boxes are hung beforehand, then research should begin by checking the boxes and mapping the locations of those that are occupied by birds. For recording purposes it is ad-vised to use a geobotanical map marked with types of vegetation, made in winter.
It is also important to pay attention to any signs indicating natural nesting places of birds within the area under study such as the occupation of tree hollows at the same time as mapping artificial nesting-places.
Observation of birds' nesting behavior is another research task; however, it is convenient to combine this work with the previous one. The best time for observations is the period of nestling rearing.
The observer should take up position not far from a nest. With a clear view of the nest and the birds' main routes of approach to the nest. All of the bird behaviors are recorded in a field notebook.
Student results consist of making a map of the area with the locations of bird nests and their description as well as a recording bird behaviors at each location.


Lesson #6: Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams (see the manual "Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams")
This field study describes a procedure for description and preliminary evaluation of a water body to determine its environmental state. This pilot survey requires no complex equipment, instruments or technical devices.
All research is based on filling out the "Exploring Water Bodies Description Form", which is specially designed to make recording and further research data handling easier. The form begins with general information about the study site.
Next students begin the description of morphological features of the water-body. The watercourse width and depth and stream velocity is measured. Later, estimations of water output and stream flow volume are calculated based on these measurements.
Next students describe riverside aquatic vegetation and high water plants. In the middle of the Description Form students record: shore soils and stream bottom structure, features of the growth on underwater objects, pollution description and associated water organisms.
The next phase of the study focuses invertebrates living in the river or stream. Samples are collected according to the standard sampling method with a scraper. It is better to list as many different organisms associated with the reservoir as possible.
Water samples are also collected in the field for further laboratory tests. First of all, clarity, smell and color of the water should be assessed. The type and number of chemical analyses may depend on tests and reagents available at school.
Results of the work are presented in the form of project reports, pictures and watercourse profiles. A possible form of a project report of the results is a comparative table that combines water characteristics data with other features of the studied reservoirs.


The focus of this lesson is the study of benthic macroinvertebrates in a small river or stream and to determine its water quality based on the species composition and prescence of various collected organisms.
The study of benthic macroinvertebrates is best conducted on a small river with slow current. In order to form a comprehensive view of animals inhabiting the river, samples should be taken at several different sites.
All collected organisms are categorized and placed into jars for later identification. The procedure is repeated several times. The more diversity and abundance of species found, the more accurate and complete the study. The presence of all species living in the area is most important.
After sorting specimens in the lab, the collected animals are identified using field guides and taxonomic keys, if necessary students can use magnifying glasses or binocular microscopes to observe characteristics of the organisms.
According to the composition of water invertebrates in your sample, environmental status of the river can be assessed. It is not necessary to determine exact biological species, it is more important to find indicative taxons. Their list is given in the manual.
In the preparation of the final report it is desirable to have students reflect on the entire range of collected invertebrates and to identify indicative ones among them, i.e. those, which determine the level of water quality in the river or stream.


Lesson #8: Plankton in the Littoral Zone of a Water-body (see the manual "Study of Plankton")
In this field study students study zooplankton living in various water bodies and determine their population density. Field work involves catching zooplankton with the help of a fine-meshed, cloth plankton net.
At the field site plankton is collected by pouring large volumes of water through the plankton net. Selection of the site for sampling is determined by the presence of large waterbodies in the locale of the school.
The field site can be a river with quiet current, overgrown with high aquatic vegetation, with still areas and access to the riverbank. It can also be a stream. It is important that there are some quiet sections in the streambed, where water is warmed and there is no current.
The best sites for plankton collection are nonmoving waterbodies: lakes, ponds, pits filled with water and even temporary water bodies.
Plankton is collected by pouring water with the help of a bucket through the plankton net. Sampling should result in a small sample volume with concentrated plankton from a known volume of water.
Quantities of collected plankton are calculated in the laboratory. A specific accurately measured volume of water is examined under a binocular microscope at high magnification, all organisms are counted within the sample.
Reporting results of zooplankton studies is quite simple, it is a comparative analysis of species composition and numbers of zooplankton in different waterbodies or in different parts of one large waterbody.


This field study uses a bioindication method which allows an assessment of a number of environmental properties of meadow plant associations according to the presence and numbers of herbaceous plants.
Field study begins with selection of the site for the study. When conducting research it is advised to collect material at different types of meadows, for instance, located on floodplain, on a terrace, on terrace slopes, at the watershed and so on.
The next step is botanical description of the site itself. It should begin with listing of all the plant species found within the site. The next stage of the work is estimation of protective cover, meaning the percentage of the total area covered with leaves of the given plant.
The next and most labor intensive stage of the work is the description of ecological characteristics of the plants. A standard form is used for this purpose, where all identified plant species are listed with an indication of their protective cover.
A description of environmental conditions corresponding with each plant is provided for each species depending on its protective cover.
As a result of the analysis of the data in this study, levels of moisture, soil resources, digression and other ecological factors corresponding to each plant species found at the site are reported.
The data serves as the basis for assessment of environmental conditions of the studied grass community. On the basis of these qualitative characteristics it is possible to classify the studied meadow without labor-intense physical measurements and chemical analyses.


Lesson #10: Status of Forests Based on Asymmetry of Tree Leaves (see the manual "Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry")
This field study addresses development stability as an indicator of environmental state, the collection of field material as well as how to take measurements, make calculations and interpret of results.
Different species of birch serve as the bioindication species. The objective of the field study is measurement of the asymmetry of birch leaves, specifically, differences between the left and right sides of a leaf.
Field work begins with collection of leaf measurements in the laboratory. We recommend collecting leaves from 10 different trees within one site or study area, so that the total number of leaves collected at the same place is not less than 100.
In order to perform the best study it is necessary to collect leaves in places which differ from each other in the level of disturbance or pollution, or to conduct collection uniformly, when studying a large area and making a map of environmental state of the area.
Processing the material is the most labor intensive part of the work. It includes five measurements of left and right sides of each leaf separately and calculation of their difference, resulting in a value of leaf asymmetry.
When measurements are completed, a value of asymmetric property is calculated in three stages. First, relative difference between the left and right side of the same leaf are calculated for each of the five measurements. Then an average value of all the parameters of the same leaf is estimated. Next, an average value for all the leaves of the sample is calculated.
The result of the work is an index of asymmetric property for the given site, a relative value which can be higher or lower than a norm calculated by authors of the given procedure. The higher the asymmetric property, the worse is the environmental situation.


See the manual "Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry"




Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write to in a free form.

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


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