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: Mauritius
Day: 1 - Wednesday, 9 March
Charles Darwin climbed La Pouce Mountain in 1836, when HMS Beagle visited this remote oceanic island. La Pouce is the third highest peak (812 m) in Mauritius, and the hike to its summit provides panoramic views of Port Louis and the island’s central plateau. As students hike up the mountain during the morning, following in Darwin’s footsteps, the class will stop at several points to discuss environmental themes illustrated by this dramatic setting: the unusual ecology and evolutionary history of oceanic islands; factors such as invasive species and climate change that threaten the future of island ecosystems; and the role that Mauritius and other volcanic islands such as the Galapagos played in the development of Darwin’s evolutionary theories. During the afternoon the class will visit Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, considered by some to be the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere. Established in 1770, the garden played an important role in spreading the cultivation of valuable crop plants such as nutmeg, cloves, and manioc from their countries of origin to distant tropical regions. Students will tour the plant collections and observe the remarkable evolutionary adaptations of tropical species such as the giant Victoria water lilies. Mauritius is famous as the former home of the dodo, a flightless bird that was collected to extinction in the seventeenth century. The class will discuss current efforts to conserve threatened species and ecosystems on Mauritius and neighboring Reunion Island, including the Mauritius fruit bat or flying fox. One in every ten plant species and more than half of all animal species have already disappeared from Mauritius.
1. Study examples of the evolutionary and ecological adaptations displayed by plants and animals that have evolved on isolated oceanic islands.
2. Analyze the environmental challenges that confront plant, animal, and human populations on oceanic islands.
3. Understand the role that nature parks and botanical gardens play in ecosystem conservation, environmental education, and ecotourism.