Field Studies in Aquatic Microbial Ecology

BIOL 464

Byron Sherwood

Friday 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM

This is a field and laboratory-based course that involves students in hands-on research methods in aquatic microbial ecology. Students will gain familiarity with experimental design, field measurements of environmental parameters (physical, chemical, and biological), sample collection techniques, and laboratory analyses required to assess the activity, health, and community composition of aquatic microbial ecosystems in an urban environment. We will compare and contrast various watersheds in and around the greater Philadelphia area, and students will design and conduct original independent research as a final course project.

Course theme for Spring 2019: Impact of freshwater mussels on microbial community composition and activity in the Schuylkill river. We will focus most of our field sampling and research projects on investigating the effects of the planned reintroduction of fresh water mussels to the Schuylkill river, on the surrounding microbial community composition. The goal of the course is to provide students with an opportunity to put the fundamentals of aquatic microbial ecology theory and techniques into practice by applying the group's effort toward real-world challenges in our community. The focus of this course stems from a $7.9 million PA state grant to reintroduce freshwater mussels to the Schuylkill river with the intended benefit of improving water quality. Data collected from this course will directly inform both scientists and a variety of other stakeholders vested in protecting Philadelphia’s drinking water and preserving and restoring the greater Delaware estuary ecosystem. Within this scientific framework, there may also be an opportunity (paid) for one to two enrolled students to develop an additional project that uses the arts to creatively communicate our findings to the public through a collaboration with the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities and the Schuylkill River & Urban Waters Research Corps. All interested students are encouraged to contact the instructor prior to the start of Spring semester (

Additional information: 

Field trips: approximately 10
Laboratories: approximately 4
Tentative field sites/trips:  The freshwater mussel hatchery at Fairmont Water Works • Cobbs Creek & Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center • Bartram’s Garden • The Penn BioPond at James G. Kaskey Memorial Park • Stroud Water Research Center & White Clay Creek • Schuylkill River (multiple locations) • Delaware Bay

Spring 2019