Course Descriptions Ecology in Action Summer Program

view of ocean and mountains at sunset

Course Descriptions - Ecology in Action Summer Program


NR 660: Ecology and Biogeography of New Zealand 

5 Credit Hours. Permission (Coreq: NR662)

Course Description:

From a bioregional perspective, students learn about the geographical, geological, biological, and human ecological processes that have shaped the distribution of species and biotic communities in present day New Zealand.  The course emphasizes interactions and interdependencies among marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. Students will gain a fundamental understanding of specific attributes of New Zealand’s insular evolutionary history, its diverse landscapes and unique biota, and the impacts of recent human habitations. Students will develop field skills (classification, mapping, habitat assessment, field identification, sampling) as they study community ecology of representative ecosystems and the effects of human influences on these systems.  Students will identify and understand inter-relationships of important taxonomic groups, map and quantify habitats and species-habitat relationships, assess impacts of gradients on patterns of species abundance and distribution, and track the effects of exotic species on native ecosystems. This course, along with NR661 and NR662, is taught through integrated modules of lectures and field exercises.

Learning outcomes:

  • A basic understanding of representative New Zealand ecosystems and how they function;
  • An awareness of the impacts of some human activities on native ecosystems;
  • Acquisition of field identification skills (focusing on key species), and learning to apply these in assessment of the relative quality of key habitats;
  • A specific understanding of the nutrient cycles, food webs and life cycles of key ecosystems in the main physical environments targeted in the case studies: gulf (marine), estuary/saltmarsh, stream (aquatic & riparian), native/exotic forest, agricultural, sub-alpine;
  • Development of biodiversity awareness and assessment skills;
  • Development and application of skills needed to conduct basic research and monitoring of marine, estuarine, freshwater and terrestrial environments, including the use of observational and sampling techniques and equipment, and a solid working knowledge of appropriate field practice/procedures.


NR 662: Environmental Policy, Planning and Sustainability in New Zealand

3 Credit Hours. Permission (Coreq: NR 660)

Course Description:

In this course, students will assess the impacts of the Resource Management Act (1991) (RMA) on the ecology, economy, and socio-political environment in New Zealand.  We examine issues related to the historical exploitation of New Zealand’s resources, indigenous use issues and conflicts, new threats posed by modern society, and the ways in which New Zealand and the world can move toward a sustainable equilibrium between people and nature.  We will look at the factors that have historically determined the quality of New Zealand’s natural environments (low human population density, primary producer economy, relatively enlightened social policies, traditional culture, etc.). Speakers may be from industry (business, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and manufacturing), Department of Conservation (DoC), the Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury Regional Councils, some district councils, Iwi (Maori) representatives and others from diverse economic, social and cultural backgrounds. Resource consent processes at district, regional and national levels will be studied on a case by case basis and appraised in terms of their relative economic and social costs and their effectiveness in settling issues and achieving sustainability. Various New Zealand administrative/political structures such as the Ministry for the Environment, DoC, local authorities, Crown Research Institutes, and Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission will be evaluated for their effectiveness in dealing with key issues, including the philosophical and ethical context related to national and global environmental policy and action.  Students will be challenged to consider multi-disciplinary, consensus-building and practical plans of action for the development and maintenance of policies that are, at once, economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

Learning outcomes:

  • A basic understanding of how environmental policy is formulated and carried out at different levels of government, and of the principal influences that cause it to change over time;
  • Development of the students’ conceptual thinking abilities in appreciating the complex global interrelationships among the multiple forces of the natural world, and the different ways that human cultures and governments deal with these in terms of real and perceived requirements of people and countries;
  • Sharpening of students’ abilities to seek out and understand all of the variables and differing points of view that are behind every question of development vs. conservation;
  • Understanding different policy stances (comparisons of countries, cultures, economic theories) and what drives them;
  • Developing a mindset of consultation and problem solving based on the use of all available information concerning the target issue;
  • An appreciation for the basis of traditional land ownership systems, and concerns by Maori (and other native peoples outside New Zealand) regarding modern approaches to land use.