Humans are dependent on Earth’s resources, including air, water, and soil, for our existence. However, we have altered the planet in many ways, large and small. This course focuses on key physical and biological processes that govern how nature works, the interactions between human society and ecosystems, and current and potential solutions to environmental problems. Concepts that provide a foundation for understanding and interpreting environmental change will be introduced first, including the flow of matter and energy through ecosystems, ecosystem ecology, global climates and biomes, evolution and biodiversity, population and community ecology, and patterns of human population growth. We will then explore the past and current impact of human activity on mineral and resource extraction, water resource use and water pollution, air pollution and climate change, development of conventional and sustainable energy supplies, and loss of biodiversity. The countries visited during the voyage provide striking examples of environmental problems arising from rapid population and economic growth, and we will explore these relationships during the voyage.
Field WorkCountry: South Africa
Day: 2 - Wednesday, 16 March
Botanical gardens play a critical role worldwide in displaying and interpreting the diversity of the plant kingdom and in conserving rare and endangered species. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town is one of the world’s premier botanical gardens, located in a dramatic setting at the foot of Table Mountain. Its plant collections and associated natural habitats illustrate the incredible biodiversity of the Cape flora. Its scientific programs demonstrate how research can be used to protect biodiversity and its societal benefits, with programs in ecosystem services, invasive species, threatened species, climate change, and sustainable wildlife trade. Students will tour the collections, learn about the remarkable evolutionary and biogeographic history of the Cape flora, see examples of rare plant conservation, and study the Garden’s efforts to introduce more ornamental and useful native South African species (such as Rooibos tea) into sustainable commercial markets. We will then travel to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve to discuss the ecology of the famous “fynbos” vegetation, and to hike through a landscape at the very southern tip of the African continent that is home to wildlife such as baboons, Cape zebras, elands, red hartebeests, ostriches, and hundreds of other bird species.
1. Study examples of the extraordinary evolutionary and ecological adaptations displayed by the South African flora in the setting of a world class botanical garden.
2. Observe how horticulture, botany, and other scientific disciplines contribute to conserving and restoring threatened ecosystems.
3. Understand the role that public education programs can play in shaping attitudes towards the environment.
4. Analyze the role that nature reserves play in ecosystem conservation, environmental education, and ecotourism.