Biology 5455 (University of Utah)
Desert Ecology Field Course, October 7-16*, 2017 Professor: Dr. Dale Clayton; TAs: TBD
Course Fee: $250.00

* We will return to SLC Monday night, October 16,
so you will miss Monday's classes after spring break.

Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America, Natl. Geog. Soc. 2008

You will also receive a course manual, containing readings and many course details

Students must apply for this course. Application must be submitted by email to Dale Clayton ( by Tuesday April 3rd and consists of:

1. Half Page statement explaining why you want to take this course and how you think it will help you in the future. (Include your email address).

2. Unofficial Transcript

Those selected will be notified by email and will be required to attend a course organizational meeting at the beginning of Fall Semester.

Course Overview:

The purpose of this course is to provide you with ten days of complete immersion in desert field ecology. You will be introduced to concepts and methods used by ecologists to understand the diversity of species that surround us. The focal study group is birds, but we will also study other groups. We will do rough estimates of plant diversity and look at the influence of plants on bird diversity. We will explore how this relationship changes with elevation (and latitude). Most of the course will take place at in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson AZ. We will compare the diversity of bird and plant communities at elevations ranging from the desert floor (2800 feet elevation) up to 8000 feet in the adjacent mountains. Although birds are a relatively easy group to study during a course of this kind, the general concepts and approaches we use can be applied to virtually any group of organisms. No previous background in ornithology is required to take this course. The first couple of days will involve a “crash course” in bird identification.

During this course we will visit both northern and southern Arizona (see itinerary and map).  To accomplish this we will drive a total of 1,800 miles over a period of 10 days in small, 6 passenger minivans. This is an intense course, meaning we will cover a lot of material in a short period of time. But it is also an interesting course and one that most people find to be a lot of fun.  It is likely to differ dramatically from any course you have taken before.  You may not get nearly as much sleep as you would like.