Undergraduate Ecological Training Programs

Natural Lands Management Training Program

This program was developed in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Biology to provide students with an opportunity to gain practical experience in leadership and land management skills. As part of the program, students will assist in developing and implementing community and science-based land management practices for either the UCI Ecological Preserve or the UCI San Joaquin Marsh. After learning about the history, ecology, and management of UCI’s natural lands, students develop an independent project designed to address a conservation challenge while involving the local community. The first student projects from this program this year are:

1. Wildlife Integration Network

2. Monitoring Southwestern Pond Turtle Populations at the UCI San Joaquin Marsh

Photo credit: USGS

Monitoring Southwestern Pond Turtle Populations at the UCI San Joaquin Marsh

The southwestern pond turtle (Actinemys pallida) is the only native freshwater turtle on the West Coast, with the southern population now recognized as a distinct species of what was once broadly the western pond turtle. Due to habitat loss and other threats, the state of California recognizes the turtle as a species of special concern, and it is currently under consideration for listing at the federal level. Here in Orange County, the largest population of southwestern pond turtles is in the UCI San Joaquin Marsh, yet the population has not been censused since a thesis project by then master’s student Barry Nerhus in 2012. This student project aims to build turtle monitoring traps to catch and count southwestern pond turtles at the UCI San Joaquin Marsh, and lead a turtle walk for members of the public to learn about and observe these unique reptiles!

UCI Informatics 117 Collaboration Plant Identification App

Computer science and biology students worked with UCI-Nature staff to use their programming expertise and botanical knowledge to address a need for more immediate help in identifying plants in a field setting. Traditionally, identifying plant species in the field requires either carrying around a large manual, finding a local flora book, or collecting specimens to examine in greater detail later (which often isn’t permitted). This project seeks to provide an alternative by creating a mobile application that utilizes a species list and photo database to provide the user with a handful of possible species after a few questions are answered from the field based on basic plant traits. The app is designed for people with little to no experience in technical plant identification skills.


UCI undergraduate and graduate students participate in the following in the types of classes as part of the ecology program.

Field Methods in Conservation and Restoration

Hands-on training in the field techniques used in ecological restoration and developing professional restoration plans. Activities utilizing the UCI Ecological Preserve include methodology for biological assessments of sensitive species, standardized protocols for vegetation classification and mapping, and the design and implementation of monitoring programs.


 Field Biology

Conducting group and independent studies in Southern California ecosystems, this course covers the fundamentals of experimental design, statistical analysis, communicating scientific findings (orally, visually, in writing), and other skills necessary for the scientific investigation of biological processes in the field.