Florida Coastal Everglades in the Classroom

PhD students at FIU are required to teach a lab for two semesters.  So, for the past two semesters I have been a teaching assistant (TA) for Ecology lab and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  A typical ecology lab consists of a large majority of pre-professional students (pre -med, -dental, -vet, etc.) who need an upper-level elective.  Translation:  many students are enrolled in Ecology because they have to.  I don't expect my students to change their career paths and become ecologists; I simply want them to understand why ecology is important.  Memorizing terminology and examples, while they have their place, are not as useful in the long-term – it’s the experiences and hands-on activities we remember.   I am an ecologist and all I remember from my undergraduate ecology class is going out to my university’s nature preserve looking at species abundances and distributions.  If a student who is preparing for a career in ecology and research doesn’t remember that she (or he!) learned about Trophic Cascades as a 19 year-old biology major, how can we expect students preparing for a career in medicine to remember similar concepts?

Sorting through a seine sample for our Marine Ecological Processes lab (Texas A&M Univ- Corpus Christi).

Throughout the semester we investigate many topics, such as sampling techniques, species distributions, life tables, species interactions, and ecosystem metabolism around FIU’s campus and in the FIU nature preserve.  We also take a trip to Fairchild Tropical Botanic garden where we discuss the importance of Botanic gardens to conservation and education programs.

Photo of Ecology Lab students being photographed interacting with a volunteer at FTBG!

Our lab culminates in a trip to Everglades National Park where we visit different habitats such as, Taylor & Shark River Sloughs, hardwood hammocks, pine rocklands, mangrove lakes, cypress domes, and Florida Bay.  During this trip we discuss all the topics discussed in lab as a way to bring the concepts to reality.  We also emphasize the importance of ecosystem conservation, restoration, and habitat connectivity.
Ecology Lab students exploring and learning about Cypress Domes.
Most importantly, through the field trips and field exercises students get the hands-on experiences necessary for them to truly appreciate ecology and the complicated processes at play in each individual system.  


  1. Hi,

    I am really very much thankful to you that you provide very nice concept to our student. It is very easy to learn about theory in lab classes but when it comes an practical it is as much difficult to compare theory. Here you present the blog with picture where the students are learning about Ecology Everglades. Miami Everglades is a good place where student can get more valuable information. Thanks..

    1. Thanks for the comment Ileana! South Florida is the perfect place for students to learn about ecology - It would be a shame to not use the different environments they provide!


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