The Year 2 students in ENV 112 "Quantitative Field Skills, Data Collection and Analysis for Environmental Scientists" from the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences at XJTLU had an unforgettable week in April. The purpose of the course was to conduct a small field project, and this year, the students visited Xishan Island, the largest island in Lake Tai. Xishan Island is a picturesque escape from the hustle and bustle of Suzhou, featuring crop fields brimming with yellow flowers, scattered white-washed houses, and rolling hills covered in forest.
The 36 students were divided into four groups: Birds, Insects, Plants, and Aquatic Organisms. The bird group rose early to survey 42 point count stations in six different habitats. The insect group measured arthropod diversity in the hopes of understanding its correlation to the percentage of land under intensive cultivation. The plant group examined how the diversity of herbaceous vegetation varied in fields dominated by different types of crops. Meanwhile, the aquatic group braved the waters, got muddy, and had a moment of panic when their samples seemed to weigh nothing on day two. Nevertheless, they completed a fascinating project on the relationship between soil particle size heterogeneity and water flow, dissolved oxygen, and pH.
Overall, it was an excellent opportunity for the students to gain hands-on experience with the basics of experimental design and sampling strategy. Later, they will return to the classroom to input their data, visualize patterns, and conduct statistical tests. However, for those few days, being outdoors and observing non-human organisms in their natural habitat served as a profound reminder for environmental science students and teachers alike of why it is crucial to protect biodiversity and build a sustainable civilization.