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Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains

Want to take a field course immersed in the natural beauty and ecological complexity of one the world’s biodiversity hotspots?

Sepcimens in test tubesThe Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Biodiversity Hotspot, and a naturalist’s paradise. The Smokies also are at our own backdoor. Since 2016, EEB has offered a field course, EEB 480: Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains, that allows students to explore the plant and animal communities, geology, geography, and human history of our nation’s most visited national park. Over a two-week period in the summer mini-term, students immerse themselves in the natural history of our Southern Appalachians.

The first week is taught on campus, where students dig into the outstanding biodiversity collections maintained by EEB and the McClung Museum, learn about plant and animal communities in the Smokies, and identify species in these communities. Students also learn about the human history and ecological threats to the Smokies, including invasive species, changing environmental conditions, and human impacts.

The second week is devoted to field-based exploration of the Great Smoky Mountains. Students and faculty stay at the EEB Field Station, just outside of the Greenbrier entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They live and work in a community environment, staying in an open-air camping area with modern kitchen and bathroom facilities. They get up early, stay up late, get wet and dirty, and eat well. Fieldwork involves a lot of hiking. Each day they explore a different part of the park, investigating plant and animal communities and identifying species in the wild. The course winds up with students each making presentations on a research topic that they choose while immersed in the natural wonders of the Park.

Students exploring ecology in the Great Smoky Mountains