Ornithology Field Lab
- 2018 - present. Position : Fellow.
- 2012 - 2015. Position : Board of Governors.
- 2011 - 2018. Position : Elective Member.
- 2008 - present. Position : Fellow International.
- 2008 - present. Position : Senior Ecologist Certification.
- 1996 - present. Position : Member.
Good biology education is essential for solving global problems ranging from emerging epidemics to climate change. Possibly more than any other field of inquiry, scientific education is not just about doing the readings and listening to the lectures, but also about learning the scientific process, understanding how to think like a scientist, and experiencing actual scientific research. Therefore, teaching and scientific research need to be better integrated. One of my primary goals as an educator is to expose my students to the current research in conservation biology, ecology and ornithology. I do this by using my lab’s research projects, guest lecturers and other current research to illustrate key topics and principles, and by assigning students topical scientific papers and science news to read, summarize, and discuss in class. It is gratifying to observe my students’ evolution as scientific thinkers and to see them start proposing in class new ways to study scientific questions that are yet unanswered. As a result of my emphasis on the importance of student participation in the scientific process, many students attending my classes take the next step by getting involved in my lab’s research projects and comprised about half of our lab’s 78 undergraduate researchers in the past seven years.
Active dialogue, discussion and questioning are also essential parts of good scientific education, especially environmental science education with real-world decisions, trade-offs and implications. Consequently, I encourage my students to ask questions any time during class. I also present them with questions regularly and ask for examples about the concepts I talk about, so that we have an active, ongoing dialogue in class. This participatory approach is especially important in conservation biology and environmental science because many of these issues directly affect people’s lives and people’s daily decisions affect the environment. Being able to relate what they learn in class to their daily lives and vice versa results in much greater engagement and assimilation of knowledge.
Teaching should not be limited to lectures and classrooms. Being a field biologist who has done extensive field-based teaching, I find that field trips are an excellent teaching tool in environmental sciences in general, and in my conservation biology and ornithology classes in particular. I have prioritized exposing my students to field trips, ongoing ecological research, and real-world conservation and habitat restoration projects. These range from behind-the-scenes visits of the NHMU bird collection to the river restoration project by the Jordan River Commission. On these field trips, students see the whole range of environmental science; they get to watch ornithologists at work while we band birds at 6 AM in the Red Butte Reserve and they see how conservation biology is done at the Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve, created under a mitigation plan to offset the loss of 1000 acres of Great Salt Lake wetlands impacted by the Kennecott mining company.
Many students learn even better by participating in the scientific process itself. I enjoy mentoring students so that they learn science best by doing original research and by solving scientific challenges, from collecting Caucasian lynx scat in the Caucasus biodiversity hotspot of northeastern Turkey to genetically identifying individual lynx from those samples in my lab. I emphasize undergraduate research in my lab. In the past seven years, I have hosted 78 undergraduates in my long-term research projects, 27 of whom formally participated in the University of Utah research programs such as ACCESS, BioURP, Honors, and research for credit. These students presented dozens of research posters and talks at local and national meetings, received various research grants, and co-authored and led papers for peer-reviewed journals. Over 210 undergrads experienced field research through my classes’ regular field trips. One of my primary goals in setting up long-term Utah bird banding and mammal camera trapping projects was providing accessible field research experience to undergraduates. This research is labor intensive, exciting, and attracts much student and public interest. This combination makes our projects perfect for undergraduate volunteers and other citizen scientists. More than 320 students have been involved in these long-term bird banding and mammal camera trapping research projects. Across all projects, I provided field research experience to about 640 Utah undergraduates in the past six years. In addition, most of the field assistants for my projects in Turkey are Turkish and international undergraduate volunteers and citizen scientists led by my graduate students. Consequently, since 2004, I estimate that more than 700 additional students from Turkey and 31 other countries were exposed to field research at my projects in Turkey.
I am particularly devoted to education because I would like to expose my students to biological knowledge that I wish I had while growing up in Turkey. Ecology education can only be truly effective by learning through practice. As one of the few ecologists from Turkey, I know what it means to be in the minority. I take every opportunity to employ undergraduate students of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds to work on my research projects. I train them in all the research methods we use, ranging from molecular fingerprinting of scat samples to radio tracking songbirds. I am a firm believer in the importance of public education and outreach. Long-term ecological research, as well as effective conservation, is impossible to do without educating and working with local people. This is especially the case in the understudied developing world that hosts most of the world’s biodiversity. I prioritize local capacity building in my research, employing and training dozens of Costa Rican and Ethiopian villagers who became dedicated and conservation-minded parabiologists while making a respectable living. From Utah to Ethiopia, I arrange school groups to visit my field research projects, educating students about biodiversity and how we study it. My Costa Rican, Ethiopian, Turkish and other local field assistants have become educators themselves, often using my wildlife photos to lecture in local schools about biodiversity conservation.
I extensively involve citizen scientists and other volunteers in my research and conservation projects. In 2007, I established KuzeyDoğa, the only ecological research-based conservation NGO in northeastern Turkey where the Caucasus and Iran-Anatolian global biodiversity hotspots meet. Our conservation research is built on a foundation of hundreds of volunteer students and citizen scientists that learn about Turkey’s biodiversity while helping our research. We train Turkish graduate, university and K12 students to do biodiversity research while using wildlife research as a tool for public outreach, environmental education and community-based conservation.
Scientific research is often funded by the public and they deserve to understand what we do, especially in conservation biology where the public’s choices will determine the future of the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Therefore, I work regularly with the news media to provide conservation and ecology education to millions. Popular science writing, traditional and social media, and nature photography are invaluable public education tools I use to communicate my research. I combine science and my photography, as a contributing photographer, writer and speaker for the National Geographic Society, and as a lecturer on biodiversity, ecology and the environment. I have written over 50 popular articles and two popular books on biodiversity, conservation, and ecotourism. In Turkey, my research projects led to thousands of news pieces in local and national newspapers, radios and TV channels. Internationally, my research has led to news coverage in ABC, Associated Press, BBC, CBS, CSM, CNN, London Times, National Geographic, Nature, NBC, New Yorker, New York Times, NPR, Science, USA Today and 400 other outlets in over 50 countries, increasing political and public awareness of the global biodiversity crisis. So far, 27 documentaries featured my research and conservation projects, including two on BBC, two on National Geographic, one on Canadian TV, and a 12-episode wildlife series hosted by me on Turkey’s national documentary channel TRT Belgesel. I use social media regularly to educate the public on conservation and ecology. Our social media accounts (of my lab, my NGO and mine) have over 72,000 followers and reach millions of people every year. As a result of my public outreach and education efforts and my work with citizen scientists, in 2014 I was honored to receive the University of Utah Inaugural Citizen Science Award. In 2015, I was chosen an Ashoka Environmental Fellow and Sabanci Foundation Changemaker for the Environment because of my environmental education, conservation, outreach, and ecotourism work with impoverished village communities in eastern Turkey.
Despite a litany of seemingly insurmountable environmental setbacks, I am convinced that our main problem in conservation is not the lack of practical and scientific solutions. Rather, it is the public’s general lack of ecological awareness, limited environmental education, and the resulting inability to realize the grave nature of the environmental issues facing us. These factors lead to a reluctance to take the relatively modest measures to achieve sustainable living and a better quality of life. Only solid environmental education in conservation biology and ecology can create the informed public that will confront environmental problems effectively. I am firmly committed to providing this education to everyone, from city kids to Ethiopian farmers, and from the University of Utah students to the future ecologists of Turkey, US, and the rest of the world.
Ornithology Field Lab
- Joshua J. Horns, . Role: Chair.