Honors Field Study - Wyoming

Course Description

HONORS 1540 - 6 Credits

Biological Sciences: 3 Credits count toward major and satisfy field studies requirement
Environmental Studies: 6 Credits count toward major and satisfy field studies requirement

This course is an introduction to the concepts and methods of paleoecology, with a strong focus on techniques in the field. Students will spend five weeks investigating the Mesozoic marine and terrestrial strata exposed on the Allen L. Cook Spring Creek Preserve outside of Rock River, Wyoming by prospecting for fossils, learning field excavation techniques, and analyzing sedimentary rock units. Substantial additional emphasis will be placed on the Quaternary and contemporary ecology and Native American archeology of the Spring Creek Site through field lectures by prominent Wyoming ecologists and archeologists. An evening discussion series will introduce students to a variety of topics including dinosaur and mammal anatomy and evolution, paleobotany and paleoclimatology, plant-animal interactions, and the causes of extinction events, and will illustrate how these concepts work together to form an understanding of the relationship between ancient and modern organisms and their physical and biological environment. There will be numerous field trips for learning and recreation to the Medicine Bow Mountains, the University of Wyoming Geological Museum and library, and geology and ecology sites elsewhere in Wyoming.

Course Objectives

  • Learn the concepts, methods, and fundamental questions of paleoecology
  • Gain experience excavating in an active dinosaur quarry
  • Survey and study the geological, paleontological, and ecological resources of the Spring Creek Preserve
  • Place these discoveries in a context for understanding how the landscape, flora and fauna have changed over geologic time


A series of journal articles and book chapters assigned by the instructors and visiting experts will be made available in pdf format (or as hard copies, if necessary). Except where noted, these are to be read before departing for the field. We recommend taking notes on unfamiliar terms and concepts so these can be addressed together during discussions. An additional set of reference materials will be available in the field to help with project assignments.

Coursework and Grading

Students will be required to maintain a descriptive field notebook, an essential tool for the field geologist, paleontologist or ecologist. This will be collected twice (near the beginning of the course and again after field work is completed) to check for completeness of notes and the inclusion of illustrative sketches. (30% of grade)

Participation in discussions, field activities, and small group assignments will be an important grade component. Questions are always encouraged and will also be included in the participa-tion grade. (20 % of grade)

Each student will have the opportunity to lead a discussion on a major topic in paleoecology or ecology. During a preliminary meeting in May we will assign topics and suggest readings for these discussions. (20% of grade)

The independent study project, usually in geology, paleontology or ecology, can take any of a variety of forms and may relate either to a specific topic introduced in the course or to the inte-gration of data or concepts. Project ideas will be discussed in the first two weeks in the field to allow time for data collection. Projects should be completed in the field or within ten days of returning. (30% of grade)


For more information about this course and its content please contact Ed McCord at emccord@pitt.edu or via phone 412-624-6886

Course Information

Meet the Professors

Download the Brochure (PDF)

The Preserve

See photographs from recent sessions

Learn more about the preserve's history in the Washington Post profile, Jurassic Park

Read about the field studies program's inaugural year in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette