Approved by Faculty Senate


University Studies Course Approval


Department or Program: Biology

Course Number : BIOL 203

Number of Credits: 4

Course Title: Natural History

Catalog Description: Ecology, life history, behavior, and identification of plants and animals in local habitats, including forests, prairies, lakes and streams. Lecture, laboratory, and field trips. Offered yearly.

This is an existing course that has previously been approved by A2C2: Yes

This is a new course proposal: No

(If this is a new course proposal, the WSU Curriculum Approval Form must also be completed as in the process prescribed by WSU Regulation 3-4.)

Department contact Person for this course: Carol A. Jefferson


A2C2 requires 55 copies of the proposal





The proposed course is designed to satisfy the requirements in (select one area only):



Course Requirements:

A. Basic Skills

1. College Reading and Writing ____

2. Oral Communication ____

3. Mathematics ____

4. Physical Development and Wellness ____



B. Arts & Sciences Core:

1. Humanities ____

2. Natural Sciences _X_

3. Social Science ____

4. Fine & Performing Arts ____




C. Unity and Diversity

1. Critical Analysis ____

2. Science and Social Policy ____

3. a. Global Perspectives ____

b. Multicultural Perspectives ____

4. a. Contemporary Citizenship ____

b. Democratic Institutions ____



D. Flagged Courses

1. Writing ____

2. Oral ____

3. a. Mathematics/Statistics ____

b. Critical Analysis ____




Approval/Disapproval Recommendations


Department Recommendation: Approved Yes Disapproved ____ Date 22 Sept 2000


Dean's Recommendation: Approved ___ Disapproved ___ Date ________


USS Recommendation: Approved ___ Disapproved ___ Date ________


A2C2 Recommendation: Approved ___ Disapproved ___ Date _______


Faculty Senate Recommendation: Approved ___ Disapproved ____ Date ________


Academic Vice President's Recommendation: Approval ___ Disapproved ___ Date ________


President's Decision: Approved ____ Disapproved ___ Date ________




Material Submitted for Course Approval

Syllabus for NATURAL HISTORY -- Biology 203


Natural History is a University Studies Course. Successful completion of this course satisfies 4 semester hours of the Arts & Sciences Core: Natural Science (with laboratory) category

Catalog Description: Ecology, life history, behavior, and identification of plants and animals in local habitats, including forests, prairies, lakes and streams. Lecture, laboratory, and field trips. Offered yearly.




Overview of BIO 203 Natural History

BIOL 203, Natural History serves the needs of students enrolling to meet University Studies requirements in natural sciences with a laboratory component, and of students majoring in Recreation & Leisure Studies or Elementary Education. Another significant contingent of students are non-traditional students and outdoor enthusiasts, who seek to learn more about their environment, plants and wildlife, and the natural setting of the Winona area. Natural History is a field-based (outdoor) course dealing with interlocking topics in ecology, behavior, biotic diversity, and regional environments. The bulk of the material learned in Natural History is intended to come from the laboratory (mostly outdoor) experiences and readings. Lectures, written assignments, and exams are expected to be other avenues of learning that help organize, clarify, expand and interrelate laboratory topics.


Natural History emphasizes these themes:




1. interaction of living things and their environment, including behavior

2. morphological, physiological, and behavioral adaptation though evolution

3. biodiversity at population, species, community, ecosystem, and biome levels

4. development and transformation of natural landscapes through biotic, geologic, climatic, and human-

mediated processes

5. seasonal change



1. acquiring, processing, interpreting, and communicating scientific information, with

particular emphasis on observing details and deciphering patterns in nature

2. learning to identify common trees, birds, and aquatic organisms; and recognizing distinguishing

processes and features of forests, grasslands, streams, lakes and wetlands

3. learning about, observing, and venturing in nature as an exhilarating, rewarding and lifelong endeavor

4. developing personal sensitivity and commitment to environmental protection

5. acquiring basic personal safety and conservation habits in forests, prairies, lakes and rivers


Major units include (I) Ecological Principles and Biogeographic Overview of the Region;

(II) Terrestrial Habitats -- Forests & Grasslands; (III) Aquatic Ecosystems --- Lakes, Streams & Mississippi River; (IV) Local Conservation Issues and Impacts of Native American & Modern Land Use Practices; (V) Animal Behavior; and (VI) Winter Biology.

During the course, students learn to identify about 40 trees and shrubs, 30 birds, and 30 aquatic invertebrates. Laboratory writing assignments include (a) keeping a thrice-weekly "phenology" log, wherein they record changing environmental conditions, animal behavior, plant activity, and bird migrations; (b) designing, executing, and quantifying a study of bird behavior; (c) collecting data to characterize a small area of forest, grassland, stream and lake; and (d) describing in detail the external features of an insect or plant, the movement of a mammal, and a microhabitat in winter.



Expectations for Laboratory and Lecture:

Natural History has an enrollment of 45 - 60 in lecture and 15 in laboratory sections. Nearly all the 3-hour laboratories are held outdoors, with each field trip to a different habitat and location. During lab, students are expected to wear appropriate field clothes; to carry relevant field guides and a small notebook and pen, to record data and observations and take notes as needed to learn the class material and prepare written assignments; and to act in an environmentally responsible manner. After lab sessions, students are expected to "flesh out" their field notes and prepare reports in a timely manner. Attendance in lab is required and graded.

Students are expected to bring the appropriate textbook(s) to all lectures. Learning will be enhanced if students…

SKIM the assigned reading BEFORE class

LISTEN ACTIVELY and THINK about the meaning of material DURING class

READ & STUDY the material SHORTLY AFTER class

spread their studying over the WHOLE week

REVIEW their notes and text highlighting BEFORE and AFTER each class

An average student can expect to study effectively eight hours every week, just for this class, in order to earn an average grade. Students are responsible for all the assigned reading, as well as all the material in the identification guides for each species on our lists, unless the instructor indicates otherwise.




Grading Policy for Natural History

  1. Attendance at all lectures, labs, quizzes and exams is expected. Attendance will re taken during laboratory and points will be assigned. Attend Class! (This is the single best academic advice you will receive.)
  1. In order to pass Natural History, you must
bulletcomplete all exams and quizzes bulletcomplete all written assignments, according to instructions bulletnot miss more than two labs (without university-sanctioned excuses) bulletearn a total of at least 50% of the possible points for the term bullethave not cheated or plagiarized
  1. Exams and quizzes are to be taken during the designated class date and time, in the assigned lab period, and during scheduled final exam period. Students that anticipate missing an exam or quiz must make prior arrangements for an alternative time or format. Make-up exams may be oral, entirely essay, or in any other reasonable format required by the instructor. Make-up lab quizzes will be oral. Students should not plan on simply taking the same exam as the class did previously.
  1. If unforeseen circumstances arise, your instructor may adjust the due dates of exams and assignments, or add additional materials for evaluation. In all cases you will be notified of all changes at least a week in advance.
  1. Scores for written assignments that are turned in late will be recorded as 80% of the points earned, except that a score of zero will be given if an assignment is turned in after the class’s papers are returned.

6. Usually, these are the points for the semester: 7. Grading Scale *

2 or 3 lab quizzes 60 A = 85% or more of possible points

4 exams 240 B = 75 - 84%

written lab assignments 60 C = 60 - 74 %

lab attendance 65 D = 50 - 59%

F = less than 50%

*The instructor may lower the grade minimum for A’s, B’s or C’s





Outcome Grid for Natural History

Natural History is in the University Studies, Arts & Science Core, Natural Sciences (with laboratory) component., thereby meeting requirements and learning activities that promote students' abilities to:

A. Understand how scientists approach and solve problems in the natural sciences

B. Apply those methods to solve problems that arise in the natural sciences

C. Use inductive reasoning, mathematics, or statistics to solve problems in natural science

D. Engage in independent and collaborative learning

E. Identify, find, and use tools of information science as it relates to natural science

F. Critically evaluate both source and content of scientific information

  1. Recognize and correct scientific misconceptions





Activities A B C D E F G
Overview Field Tour X     X   X  
Tree & Bird Identification

and Quizzes

X X   X X   X
Microenvironment Lab

and Report

Forest & Native Prairie Labs

and Report

Old Field Succession Lab X X   X X X X
Lake Invertebrates Lab

and Quiz

X X   X X X X
Stream Sampling Lab X X X X X X X
Migratory Waterfowl Lab

and Lecture

X     X X X X
Bird Behavior Lab & Report X X X X X X X
Phenology Log X X   X   X X
Detailed Descriptions X X X X X    
Exams X   X X   X X
Lectures X X X X X X X



Example of how "Bird Behavior Laboratory and Report" meets each Outcome:

For this laboratory, pairs of students (outcome D) select a common, flocking bird and observe its behavior for three hours. Before starting this observation period, students read about animal behavior in general, and their species in particular. They find such information in books, journals and the Internet (outcome E). Having read and understand available information, the students prepare a "research proposal" for the instructor that includes their hypothesis(expected outcome), methodology, and a short literature review (outcome B). After their proposal is approved, the students prepare data tables that include the different categories of behavior, such as dominance behavior, and its intensity, frequency, duration, and variation (outcome A). During their observation period, the students record quantitative and qualitative data (outcome B). Later they prepare a written report that includes quantitative analyses (outcome C). In the discussion and conclusion sections of their paper, students compare their results to those in their sources (outcomes F & G).



Explanations of Outcomes for Natural History


Outcome A: Understand how scientists approach and solve problems in the natural sciences.

The traditionally acknowledged way scientists approach their research is known as the "scientific method", which consists of hypothesis formation and testing. Scientists form hypotheses after examining the natural or laboratory environment for apparent patterns, then formulate a hypothesis that can be nullified. Two fairly different types of experiments can be used to test hypotheses. The first is a laboratory-style experiment, wherein every variable, but one, is controlled. The second type of experiment is known as a "natural experiment", wherein the course of nature is not controlled by the investigator, but the outcome can be documented and analyzed. An example would be the effects of a hurricane on forests in South Florida. In Natural History, we emphasize natural experiments and their outcomes. The laboratory on documenting and understanding old field succession examines former agricultural fields that were abandoned at different times, ranging from less than a year, to 70 years. The students relate species diversity, vegetation cover, and mode of seed dispersal to age since abandonment. The stream and lake labs involve sampling for physical variables and aquatic invertebrates. The two habitats are then compared. Likewise, we observe and identify migratory waterfowl in various habitats, settings and times, in order to understand habitat preference and use. As a prerequisite to collecting data on organisms and biotic communities, students must learn to identify many species and master technical terminology, in the same manner that any other scientist should know what kinds of materials they are investigating.




Outcome B: Apply those methods to solve problems that arise in the natural sciences.

All of the activities in Natural History are about personally gathering information about natural environments and their inhabitants, and also understanding how ecologists and naturalists have arrived at their conclusions. For example, on the overview field tour, students hike up a south-facing dry prairie, feel and measure the heat, note the indications of past fire, visually and manually examine the texture and content of soil, examine the drought-resistant, waxy or hairy texture of foliage, and count the number of different kinds of plants. Then the students climb over the top of the ridge and descent down the steep north-facing slope, which is covered by forest and the temperature is dramatically lower, the soil darker and damper, and the vegetation much more abundant. Later, in their reading , and from their lectures, students encounter larger-scale explanations of the relationship of microhabitat, microclimate, fire, adaptation, and geographic distributions of species and biomes. Through their field experience, students learn first-hand how scientists detect and document ecological patterns.




Outcome C: Use inductive reasoning, mathematics or statistics to solve problems in natural science.

Inductive reasoning is generalizing from particular facts. This approach is used in the field exercises on microenvironments, forest, old field and prairies, and bird behavior. In the forest exercise, for example, students set up large plots in a random, stratified random, or uniform manner, then sample the forest for the number, size, and cover of woody plants. From this data, they calculate frequency, density, dominance and ecological importance. Students also gather information on soil characteristics, evidence of past fires, logging or other disturbance, and the presence of vertebrates. After each group analyzes and characterizes their area of forest, the groups compare their results to each other and discuss possible explanations for the differences in forest composition and structure.




Outcome D: Engage in independent and collaborative learning.

Students are encouraged to study together in preparation for exams and quizzes. Laboratory exercises and associated writing assignments include both group (collaborative) and independent activities. Data gathering is usually done in pairs or groups of four. The written reports are usually group efforts, whereas the thrice-weekly phenology log is individual.




Outcome E: Identify, find, and use tools of information science as it relates to natural science.

For their investigation and report on bird behavior and their "Detailed Descriptions" assignment, students have to seek out and apply information about their particular bird, insect, mammal, and microhabitat. Students usually gather their information from their textbook and other sources, including other books, Internet sites, identification and natural history guides, and ecology or zoology textbooks. The class also visits interpretative centers, displays and "nature trails" at parks, locks & dams on the Mississippi, and wildlife refuges. During the conservation unit, students are expected to read relevant articles from conservation magazines and newspapers.




Outcome F: Critically evaluate the source and content of scientific information.

This outcome is addressed on two levels in Natural History. In learning to identify trees, for example, students use critical evaluation at a relatively low level. They learn to identify trees by their leaves, fruit, and/or bark and twigs, requiring students to examine leaf shapes, margins, venation, teeth or lobes, surface texture, branching, fruit type, and other characteristics. Then they follow through a dichotomous key or diagrams and maps. At first, students make many mistakes, eventually learning to very carefully evaluate a statement in the key and details in a diagram. Sometimes, the plant is not included in the book, or there is a significant difference between out local specimens and a generalized North American type.

More significant is the second level students use in critical evaluation. While in the field, the instructor frequently poses a question or statement from their texts, popular news sources, historical writings, or "commonplace" knowledge. The students are asked to respond with what might be "wrong" or questionable about assumption, and then justify their own conclusions. For example, at Sugar Loaf there is a sign, "Beware of Rattlesnakes", and the students decide whether they are likely to encounter rattlesnakes, and, if so, when, when and why, as well as what they should do to avoid contact with the snakes. At the top of the hill, the students learn that this formation was once a prominent landmark, described as "crowned with evergreens, clothed in oaks and grasses, frequented by falcons, and towering over Indian fields of corn, beans and squash…later [it] presided over a mill pond and denuded sidehills." Students are then asked to look for evidence of each of these historic conditions and to speculate on why and when changes occurred, and how they are reflected in the present landscape.

A major theme in Natural History is helping the students learn how to "read the landscape."




Outcome G: Recognize and correct scientific misconceptions.

This outcome is largely what education is about: recognizing and correcting misconceptions. In the field of natural history, these misconceptions are most frequently the students’ own, ranging from something as simple as misidentifying a bird, to misconstruing its behavior, to not recognizing or acknowledging the geological and biological evidence for long-term environmental changes. In nearly every lecture, discussion and laboratory period students and the instructor discuss what they previously thought, versus why they now have a different, more knowledgeable understanding of a particular habitat.







Tentative Assignment Schedule, Fall Semester




Instructor: Dr. Carol Jefferson
Office: Pasteur 215 C Telephone: 457-5273 e-mail:
Office Hours: posted weekly on office door, usually MWF after lecture and TR mornings

Minnesota’s Natural Heritage: An ecological Perspective by John R. Tester…….(M)
The Way Nature Works, edited by Robin Rees………………(N)
Life in the Cold: an Introduction to Winter Ecology, 3rd ed. by Peter J Marchand…..(C)
North American Wildlife edited by Susan J. Wernert
(Note: this identification guide is appropriate for all labs, bring it to class!)


Introduction & Forests

Week Lecture and Lab Topic Reading (Book, Chapter & pages) Outcomes (see grid)
*lectures meet all outcomes
1 Introduction M 1,2 D F
  Overview Field Tour    
2 Ecology M 3 A B D E G
  Tree Identification    
3 Forests M 4; N(30,106,110,204-7) A B C D E F G
4 Forests M 5; N(316-323) A B C D E F G
  Upland Forests    
5 EXAM #1   B C G
  Floodplain Forests,Tree ID Quiz   A B D E F G



6 Introduction to Grasslands M 6; N(114,138,142,156,202,210-213) A B D E F G
  Goat Prairie & Old Field Succession    


Aquatic Ecosystems

7 Lakes M 8 A B D E F G
  Lake Winona Invertebrates    
8 Streams; Aquatic Adaptations M 9; N(124,160-3,196,200,210-13) A B D E F G
  Garvin Brook    
9 EXAM #2   C D G
  Mississippi River, Mississippi River (Phenology Log #1 Due)   D F


Local Conservation Issues

10 Conservation in Minnesota M 10; N(338-347) A B D E F G
  Whitewater State Park & Wildlife Management Area    


Animal Behavior

11 Food, Movement & Shelter N 5, 6 A D E F G
  Migratory Waterfowl    
12 Attack & Defense N 7 A D E F G
  Migratory Waterfowl    
13 Sensing & Communication N 8 A B C D E F G
  Bird Behavior Projects    
14 Bird Identification & Winter Behavior   A B C D E F G
  Bird Behavior Project    
  EXAM #3   C D G


Winter Biology

15 Winter Environment C 1, 2, 3, 5 A B D E G
  Conifer Identification
Winter Microhabitat
  A B C D E F G
16 Plants & Animals in Winter C 6, 7; N (140-145) A B D E F G
  Bird & Conifer ID quiz    
17 EXAM #4   C D G