Fieldwork: Adaptation to aquatic environments

Staff and students from the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham talk about the Adaptation to aquatic environments fieldwork module on the BSc Biological Sciences degree course.

TitleFieldwork: Adaptation to aquatic envrionments

Duration: 4.42 mins

Speaker Names (if given):

  • S1 Dr Julia Lodge, Senior Lecturer
  • S2 Ben, 2nd year Bsc Biological Sciences student
  • S3 Francesca, 2nd year Bsc Biological Sciences student
  • S4 Nina, 2nd year Bsc Biological Sciences student
  • S5 Martha, Field Studies Centre, Orielton
  • S6 Dr Julia Myatt, Lecturer in Behavioural Ecology and Morphology


S1: For those who are interested in animals, plants and their environment then field course is really an essential component. This is a second you field course, “Adaptations to aquatic environments”, and  it’s an optional course for biological sciences students.

We bring a group of about twenty students every year to the field centre at Orielton in Pembrokeshire where we’ve got access to a lot of different beaches so we're looking at how the organisms that live on the seashore adapt to their environment. The seashore’s a very variable environment because of the tide.

The tide goes in and out. So on a hot summer's day when the tides out temperatures can get very high, water evaporates, you get high salt levels. However, in the middle of January, heavy waves, storms, all sorts of different stresses. It's a very complex environment, lot of really good little places for different kinds organisms to live and so we find a lot of very interesting things.

S2: So today we're measuring species and how they change across a rocky shore as you move up from the lower tidal zone all the way up to the top and we’re using quadrats to measure species variance. Which is really fun, there’s a lot different species from snails, seaweeds to crabs.

S3: We found loads of crabs and one of them bit our lecturer. There was one, like, massive one. Lots of snails, called flat periwinkles and lots of seaweed and then as we are starting to come up there’s a decrease in seaweed as we get up the beach, and lots of barnacles.

S4: We hadn’t done a transect before, so [we learnt] how to use the transect property. Identification o0f species.  The keys are really different, like to seeing it in person so I think it's better to be able to see it in person to be able to identify it properly.

S1: It's really good for the students as they start to do identification which is something they do very little of and that's a very important skill as far as employers are concerned actually. The ability to look at an area and work out what species there are there.

S5: So there’s one, two, three, four individuals attached to a dead shell there. 

S1: We have a seawater facility and I love this because it means you can bring stuff back from the beach, settle it in pots of aerated seawater and the creatures unfurl and relax and start doing the things they do. And you discover that barnacles are not just part of the rock but they start waving their little feet around in order to filter food out of the water.

S6: So we look at some key behavioural aspects also on this course. So we've got, for example, anemones in the lab here, we’ve got hermit crabs. We're asking questions such as hermit crab personality does that influence their aggressive behaviour? How often do they swap shells? Sea anenomes, you may think they never do anything. We use some the latest technology with time-lapse cameras to film their behaviour. We look at their interactions,  look at the infractions how they’re aggressive. Different species behaviours. 

Then other people looking at other ends of the spectrum. Filter feeding, effects of concentration and salinity on their physiological processes. So it really does cater for a massive range of different tastes and interests. 

S1: They can set up an experiment, maybe not get it right, they’ve got time to, because we’re here all week,  they've got time to set it up again, try it out again. And these are things which was sometimes can’t manage in lab classes because they kind of have a fixed time period. I think students learn a lot about organisation, about having to organise themselves, not having the protocol all laid out and just do this, this and this and then pack up a go home.

S3: Definitely the extent of designing experiment ourselves because normally you know how many of everything to use. Whereas here it’s like “I don’t know how many mussels we need to collect” or anything. So I guess a bit of trial and error.

S1: It’s also really good to have the opportunity to do an experiment, have a look at the results, discuss it with the staff who are here and then see, right, what should we have done, how could we do it better? And have the time to do that again the next day.

S6: It’s often the first chance the student gets to do their own research independently. They work in small groups to develop and design their own project, collect the data, analyse the data -  all within the timespan of the field course. And of course this is fantastic practice to go forward into your final year where students will then be doing their own long-term, independently research projects. This really gives a good foundation to understand all the skills necessary and it's the first real chance to do that.