A Manual for Undergraduate Research in Field Biology

A Manual for Undergraduate Research in Field Biology

So you find yourself wanting (or having) to do a field research project related to an ecological topic. Where do you begin? How do you choose a topic? Will your study be motivated by a question or hypothesis? How will you collect and analyze your data? And, how will you share your results?

If any of these questions apply to your situation, this online guide should help. In brief, the four parts are intended to help you I. Observe and Ask— zero in on your topic, II. Design— figure out a systematic unbiased way to collect data, III. Analyze— complete an appropriate set of graphs and analyses once you have your data, and IV. Share— write up or present your findings.

About using this resource—
Though I think it would be helpful for any beginning researcher to read the full text of each chapter, I have purposely built the manual in a modular way with many quick links to specific topics—you should find these links very useful! These quick links are found by clicking on a subsection of the "Res. Manual" part of the navigation menu, such as "I. Observe & Ask". Examples of specific linked topics include dependent and independent variables (in "I. Observe & Ask"), plotless sampling (in "II. Design"), the t-Test (in "III. Analyze"), a template for an academic poster (in "IV. Share"), etc.

There are many research manuals and resources available for graduate students (see a partial list of references below)—I find those to be more complicated than necessary for undergraduates who are designing their first or second field study. I have tried to make the sections of this manual as straightforward, simple, and user-friendly as possible while at the same time maintaining a high degree of rigor and adhering to the scientific method.

If you're interested in publishing your study in a peer-reviewed journal, it's essential that you get additional advice from a professional scientist (such as your professor), and that you seek additional resources, especially for statistical analysis. And, to publish, you always need to pay close attention to the subject matter and formatting requirements of specific journals. That said, this online guide should get you well on your way.

Good luck with your study. If you use this guide, plan carefully, and pick a topic you like, you’ll learn a lot about science and the natural world, have fun in the field, and avoid the stress of being underprepared.

This manual would not exist without the support of others, and many deserve thanks: my colleagues—in particular, Catherine Koning, Fred Rogers, Jacques Veilleux, Paul Kotila, Verna DeLauer—for encouraging the vision of an online resource; the administration at Franklin Pierce University for granting sabbatical leave to work on this project; my students for commenting on various early versions of these chapters and helping me to communicate more clearly; my graduate advisors, Stephen Courtney and Peter Marks, for instilling in me a love of natural history, field ecology, and scientific rigor; most importantly, my family, especially April Claggett, for invaluable feedback regarding editing, layout, content, overall clarity, and especially patience and encouragement during the writing of this manual.

Additional Resources for Doing Field Science:
Brower, J.E., J.H. Zar and C.N. von Ende. 1998. Field and Laboratory Methods for General Ecology, 4th ed. WCB/McGraw-Hill, Boston, MA.
Gotelli, N.J. and A.M. Ellison. 2004. A Primer of Ecological Statistics. Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, MA.
Krebs, C.J. 1989. Ecological Methodology. Harper Collins Publishers, New York.
Snedecor, G.W. and W.G. Cochran. 1980. Statistical Methods. 7th ed. The Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa.
Sokal, R.R. and F.J. Rohlf. 1995. Biometry, 3rd ed. W.H. Freeman & Company, New York.
Southwood, T.R.E. 1988. Ecological Methods. Chapman and Hall, New York.

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Rhine Singleton
Professor of Biology & Envi. Science
Franklin Pierce University
singler -at- franklinpierce -dot- edu

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