Students picture the natural world at ecology camp

September 15, 2015

Murdoch student Hollie McCullough at ecology camp (Pic: Hayden Davies)

Murdoch student Hollie McCullough at ecology camp (Pic: Hayden Davies)

Murdoch University ecology students were encouraged to picture their work at a recent field science camp in and around Jurien Bay, resulting in a series of beautiful images.

Around 90 second years attended the camp, which is held annually by the University to introduce fieldwork research methods and assist the students with identifying organisms and learning about their natural history.

The students were encouraged to post their images on Facebook with the hashtag #ecologyatjurien and camp organiser Dr Rachel Standish from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences ran a competition to highlight the best images in a number of categories.

“We hope the photography competition and use of social media added a new element of enjoyment and engagement to the camp for the students,” said Dr Standish, who took advice from her students about using social media to highlight their activities.

“Ecology is largely a field-based discipline so it’s absolutely critical that we offer students the opportunity to become familiar with the rigors of fieldwork, to become proficient at posing and answering questions based on their observations of nature, and collecting samples.

“Having the students personally experience the project means they are exponentially more engaged than if it were a desktop example.

“Once they’re back in Perth, they work to write up a report introducing the ecological question they were posed, explaining the methods they utilised to attempt to answer it and then presenting their key results and explaining what it all means.”

The students work on one animal and one plant project while at the camp with six demonstrators from the University leading groups of students in topics including wetland invertebrates, vegetation diversity and dynamics and marine ecology. The demonstrators were Dr Joe Fontaine, Professor Lynnath Beckley, Dr Peter O’Toole, Scott Strachan and Greg Simpson with logistical help from Ian McKernan.

Dr Standish added that peer-assisted learning was a significant advantage of the camp, as was the opportunity for staff and students to mix in an informal setting.

“Taken together, the camp offers an opportunity for teachers to nurture students’ curiosity, creativity and capacity for logical thought, which are key attributes of ecologists,” she said.

“As well as the practical and academic skills they develop at the camp, we hope the students have an inspirational experience that motivates them to make a difference to the state of our environment.”

Student Shenae Hunter said ecology camp was an awesome opportunity to meet academics and students studying in the same field, and work with them over the week.

“The practical experience was very valuable in terms of understanding the diversity and abundance of species and acquiring the ability to identify them,” she added.

Fellow student Tarryn Coward said the camp allowed her to apply the theory she’d learnt to the real world.

“It was definitely a useful learning experience as it proved to me that I am definitely doing the right degree in terms of what really interests me,” she said.

German exchange student Anne Holzhauer, who studies at the University of Applied Science Bingen in Bingen am Rhein, said the camp gave her the opportunity to experience the wonder of the natural world in Australia.

“I have never seen these species of plants and birds before in Germany so the Jurien camp gave me the opportunity to learn more about them,” she said. “I also met some nice people – it was an unforgettable experience.”

Murdoch University has organised and run field trips for its ecology students for 29 years. Previously led by Dr Philip Ladd, who has now retired but who still lectures at Murdoch, the camps have taken place at Dryandra in the western wheatbelt, as well as at Jurien Bay.

The below picture gallery features all the winners from the camp competition. There are pictures by Hamish Olliver, Tarryn Coward, Shenae Hunter, Anne Holzhauer, Hayden Davies, Jack Stanbury and Ryan Forsyth.

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