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Module BSX-2031:
Arizona Fieldcourse

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Wolfgang Wuster

Overall aims and purpose

The aims of this module are to promote:

An understanding of the physiological, morphological and behavioural adaptations of animals, especially reptiles and amphibians, to desert conditions.

An appreciation of the diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the southwestern USA, their distributions, habitats, niches and biogeography.

Herpetological and general biological field skills and experience: location, observation, capture methods, handling, safety, note-taking, notebook skills.

Course content

10 day field course in Arizona and New Mexico or equivalent areas, focused on herpetology and desert ecology.

Prepare for field course by background reading. Carry out field excursions to habitats, including both daytime and nighttime fieldwork and lab work. Learn about the habitats and fauna by a variety of means, including personal observations, talks by BU and local staff. Observe and record animal behaviour and habitat by various means that may include photography, video recording and/or sketching.

Under staff supervision, practice capturing and handling of fauna, particularly reptiles and amphibians, while observing ethical and safety protocols. Carry out species identification using field guides and keys. At the end of the fieldwork, an assignment will be set which will include numerical analysis of data, observations or material collected in the field.

Assessment Criteria


Can record observations thoroughly, systematically and clearly, without significant omissions, taking trouble to find out details of identification to fine taxonomic level or to uncover theories of the function and evolution of the behaviour observed. Clear evidence of original, unguided observations. Exhibits clear awareness of the ecologica, biogeographical or environmental context of observations. Presents findings accurately and succinctly with clarity, imagination, originality and strongly-developed aesthetic sense. Able to identify most organisms to species level, with evidence of thoroughness and awareness of potential pitfalls.

Grade A (70-100%)


Good: Can record observations clearly and systematically, with a grasp of the practical issues relating to collection and presentation of data/observations, and few major omissions. Exhibits strong knowledge of habitats and biota visited. Shows awareness their ecological, biogeographical and environmental context. Able to identify a majority of organisms to the appropriate level (usually species). Presents findings accurately and with flair, clarity and originality. Grade B (60-69%)


Threshold: Can record observations in a reasonably clear and systematic fashion and has some grasp of the practical issues relating to collection and presentation of data/observations. Considerable inconsistencies in note-taking remain. Exhibits some knowledge of habitats and biota visited and the relevant conservation/ management issues, although this may be very incomplete and contain significant errors. Presents findings largely accurately and clearly. Able to identify most organisms at least to the level of major group. Grade D & C (40-49%)

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate identification skills and knowledge relating to fauna of visited regions.

  2. Demonstrate the ability to make detailed, thorough and original field observations and to record and present them systematically.

  3. Demonstrate the skills necessary for self-managed and lifelong learning (undertaking directed reading, time management, working to a deadline)

  4. Demonstrate understanding of the factors governing distribution and habitat use and niche partitioning in animals.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight

Open book ID quiz based on photos and key usage, to be run in Arizona during the field course.


Field notes of habitats, species seen, behaviours observed etc. during the trip

REPORT Niche exercise

Numerical exercise involving analysis of data, partly gathered during the field course.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


Pre-departure lectures on preparations, safety, assessment etc.

Short talks in Arizona on topics relevant to the day's activities

Post Arizona lecture introducing post-fieldcourse assessment,

Individual Project

Small project on niche partitioning in reptiles


Fieldwork involving morning walks, afternoon seminars, evening excursions (walks, night-driving).


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in


Resource implications for students

Students pay for cost of field course through three deposits spread through the latter parts of Year 1 and the summer before Year 2. Typical costs in recent years (2017 and 2018) were of the order of £1550-1600, but this depends on air fares in any given year and exchange rate fluctuations. This includes flights, accommodation, food for 7 out of 10 days, local transport and fuel. In recent years, we have recommended bringing approx. US$200 for additional food, snacks etc. Student are also responsible for acquiring suitable field clothing and sun protection (robust boots, sun hat, high SPF clothing, sun screen etc.)

Reading list

Brennan, T.C. & A.T. Holycross (2006) A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona. Arizona Game & Fish Department, Phoenix.

Hutchinson, G.E. (1957). "Concluding remarks". Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology 22 (2): 415–427.

Jones, L.L.C. & R.E. Lovich (Eds.) (2009) Lizards of the American Southwest. A Photographic Field Guide. Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson.

Rubio, M. (2010) Rattlesnakes of the United States and Canada. ECO Publishing, Rodeo, New Mexico.

Stebbins, R.C. (2003) A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: