In Summer 2019, Professors Jason Hoeksema and Peter Zee along with Dr. J. R. Rigby from the US Geological Survey led a course on Sky Island Biodiversity for a group of 12 students (mostly biology majors) in southeastern Arizona.
Through daily field trips to diverse habitats ranging from Sonoran desert to mountain coniferous and oak forests (isolated like islands in a sea of desert), students learned about how geology, evolution, and ecology interact to shape the Earth’s biodiversity. They visited the renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, hiked among hoodoos in the Chiricahua National Monument, and explored caves in the Chiricahua Mountains. They chased beautiful birds such as the Elegant Trogon through mountain canyons; stalked scorpions, tarantulas, horned lizards, and rattlesnakes in the desert; and learned to identify diverse species of trees.
Their stay at the American Museum of Natural History’s Southwestern Research Station provided interaction with scientists studying all aspects of biodiversity, and the students’ independent research projects helped them to synthesize and apply what they learned.