Highlands Biological Station buildings remain closed to visitors with the exception of limited visitor hours for the Nature Center.  HBS Botanical Garden trails remain open, and in accordance with University policy masks and physical distancing are required on the HBS campus.  Highlands Biological Station currently plans to offer academic and public programming in summer 2021, observing University mandated Covid-19 safety protocols.  For the safety of the HBS summer community, before being permitted to work or study at HBS prospective summer students, teaching faculty, and researchers must provide documentation of (1) having received a Covid-19 vaccine or (2) a negative Covid-19 test taken within 3 days of planned arrival.  Please see the HBS website for full summer 2021 Covid-19 safety policies and procedures, and bear in mind that University policy and HBS program plans are subject to change in light of developments with the pandemic this spring. 

HBS currently intends to run Summer Courses for 2021. As per WCU policy, HBS will assess and if necessary adjust or cancel course offerings due to the impacts of Covid-19.

HBS offers several courses each summer at the advanced undergraduate/graduate levels specializing in the ­unique biological features of the southern Appalachians and with areas of study that are appropriate for investigation at a mountain field station. Academic credit for all courses is available for either undergraduates or graduate students through Western Carolina University, except where noted otherwise. Undergraduate academic credit for 4-credit hour courses is available through either UNC-Chapel Hill or Western Carolina University.  Students may take courses for credit through one of these institutions and then transfer the credit to their home institution. (Please contact the Office of the Registrar at your home institution for guidance.)  These courses are also open to life-long learners and those seeking Continuing Education Units / Credits; HBS is pleased to provide documentation of successful course completion upon request for CEU/CECs.

Courses and workshops have the option to meet on the Saturday during the week that they are scheduled.  Please check the syllabi that interest you for questions about scheduling.

*To register click ‘Register Here’ at the bottom of each description*

Scholarships Opportunities for Summer 2021!
(1) Highlands Plateau Audubon Society Ornithology Course Scholarship
* This has been fully awarded. Please contact HBS@WCU.EDU for information on the Highlands Biological Foundation Scholarship.
The Highlands Plateau Audubon Society (HPAS) is offering a limited number of scholarships covering full tuition and housing fees for qualified students seeking to take the Biology and Conservation of Birds course with Dr. Rob Bierregaard at Highlands Biological Station in summer 2021! Eligibility: Credit-seeking undergraduate or graduate students, or conservation professionals working in any area of ornithology. To request consideration for an HPAS scholarship: In addition to completing a regular HBS course application (see link on this page), please send a letter of interest and one letter of recommendation by email to costa@wcu.edu or snail mail to: Dr. James T. Costa, HPAS scholarship, Highlands Biological Station, 265 N. Sixth Street, Highlands, NC 28741. Applications accepted on a continuing basis until the course is full.

(2) The 2021 John E. Fairey Biological Field Station Scholarship

The Southern Appalachian Botanical Society is pleased to announce the 2021 John E. Fairey Biological Field Station Scholarship to support students who wish to enroll in botanically related workshops or courses at Biological Field Stations. This scholarship is made possible through a generous gift from the estate of John E. Fairey III and seeks to support botanical education. Dr. Fairey was a president of SABS and an active lifelong member dedicated to botanical education. It is the hope of the Society that the scholarship will positively impact both the student and the field station they attend.

For more information and to apply, to go: https://sabs.us/biological-field-station-scholarship/

May Courses

Grasses of the Southern Appalachians : 5/17-5/21

*This course is now full. Please consider one of our other course offerings.

Dr. Paul Mckenzie, USFWS, Emeritus 

This class will include a detailed description of the grass flower, inflorescence type, habitat and ecological associations, Tribal affinities, distribution, and habit differences. The class will be taught in four parts: 1) power point presentation and classroom instruction, 2) examination of important features with hand lens and dissecting scope, 3) team keying of grass specimens, and 4) field identification.

Dichotomous keys, hard copy print outs of power point presentation, and other handouts will be provided by the instructor. Tips for proper collection; processing; label development; herbaria deposition of grass specimens; and suggested websites/electronic tools helpful in grass study will also be discussed.

Suggested references/materials recommended or required (*) include the following:

  1. Hand lens (*): A 16x is preferred over a 10x loupe.
  2. Clark, L.G. and R.W. Pohl. Agnes Chase’s First Book of Grasses- the Structure of grasses explained for beginners. 4th Smithsonian Books. Washington, D.C. 127 pp. This book is inexpensive and an absolute must for anyone wanting to understand grass identification.
  3. Harrington, H.D. 1957. How to identify plants. Swallow Press. Athens, Ohio. 207 pp. This book provides description and illustrated glossary of terms often used in plant identification regarding flowering and fruit types, surface structure, leaf shape, root and stem types, etc.
  4. Harrington, H.D. 1977. How to identify grasses and grasslike plants. Swallow Press. Athens, Ohio. 154 pp. This is a follow up book to the Harrington (1957) classic but with a more focused look on grasses. It also has an excellent illustrated glossary.

Prerequisites: Some experienced with using dichotomous keys will facilitate learning in the class. Although not required, previous classwork in plant taxonomy and experience with field botany will be beneficial.

*This course is now full. Please consider one of our other course offerings.

Sedges of the Blue Ridge: 5/24-5/28

Dr. Dwayne Estes, Austin Peay University

This is an advanced class for students or professionals with solid prior experience with plant identification, plant terminology, and use of dichotomous keys. The class focuses on the difficult and taxonomically complex genus Carex, which includes for our region about 200 species. Carex is an important genus in almost all terrestrial plant communities. Some forests or wetlands may have more than 20 species present in a single site. The species include many look-alikes and the high number of species coupled with reliance on characters that often need identification to see makes Carex one of the more difficult groups of plants to identify in the region. For this class, we will focus on the species of the greater Southern Appalachian region. The genus will be broken down into 40+ sections and students will become familiar with the characters of each section. Each student will be given a minimum of 75 freshly collected Carex species to use in class and to make a reference herbarium set if desired. This will be supplemented with additional observations of species in the field and laboratory, using living and preserved herbarium material.

Prerequisites: field botany, plant taxonomy, or permission of instructor.

Register Here

Biology & Conservation of Birds: 5/31-6/11

Dr. Rob Bierregaard, Drexel University & Academy of Natural Sciences

Bird diversity is extremely high in the southern Appalachian mountain and Blue Ridge Escarpment region, an area that includes a wide range of plant community types over a nearly 4,000-foot range in elevation. This basic course in ornithology covers ecology, conservation, and behavior of birds. Daily field trips in the local area will acquaint students with the rich bird fauna of the region. Lab work will include recording and analyzing bird vocalizations, satellite tracking data of Osprey migration, long-term trends in regional bird censuses, and the eco-morphology raptors.

Prerequisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor.

Register Here

June Courses

Southern Appalachian Mammals: 6/14-6/25

Dr. Ed Pivorun, Clemson University & Dr. Rada Petric UNC-Greensboro (download syllabus)

This course will emphasize the mammalian fauna of the Southern Appalachians. We will have traditional lectures on mammalian anatomy, evolution, orders, physiology and ecology for about 1 ½ hours every morning. Field work will emphasize live trapping techniques. Mammals tend to be nocturnal. Thus, all traps will be set out in the late afternoon and will be checked early the next morning.  These efforts will allow the student to become familiar with as many living local species of mammals as possible.  The field work will examine the importance of specific habitats for the distribution and density of specific species. After a short break, we will move into the lecture setting until noon. In the early afternoon, after lunch, we will spend another 1 ½- 2 hours to do some more of the traditional mammalogy labs on anatomy, identification and keying.  An interactive DVD/flash drive provided to each student contains high resolution images of the skulls of each species native to the Appalachian forests. This is an excellent study aid that is used in conjunction with the actual skulls and study skins of each species.

Prerequisites:  Introductory biology, zoology, or permission of the instructor.

Register Here

Biology & Conservation of Lichens: 6/28-7/2

*This course is now full. Please consider one of our other course offerings.

Dr. Jessica Allen, Eastern Washington University & Dr. James Lendemer, New York Botanical Garden (download syllabus)

Lichens grow all over the world, from the arctic to the tropics, where they are important in a multitude of ways including serving as shelter for small invertebrates, and food for animals from snails to caribou. In this course you will have a chance to learn about lichens in one of their centers of diversity, the southern Appalachians. We will take field trips to a variety of habitats to explore the species and ecological diversity of lichens. Lab work will cover lichen chemistry, morphology, and identification. At the end of the course you will have a new perspective on the diversity, evolution and ecology of lichens.

* We will go on field trips to explore a variety of lichen communities characteristic of the southern Appalachians. Field trips will take place in natural areas up to 1.5 hours drive from HBS. Up to a total of 5 miles of hiking per day can be expected on days we go in the field. For all-day field trips you will need to pack a lunch.

Prerequisites: General biology, ecology, basic understanding of evolution, and prior experience with basic skills of microscopy is strongly recommended.

*This course is now full. Please consider one of our other course offerings.

Southern Appalachian Mayflies, Stoneflies, & Caddisflies Session1: 6/14-6/25; Session2: 6/28-7/9

Dr. John Morse, Clemson University (download syllabus)

Natural history and taxonomy of mayflies (Ephemeroptera), stoneflies (Plecoptera), and caddisflies (Trichoptera), including systematics, ecology, and behavior of larvae and adults, with emphasis on those aspects important in ecological studies, biological monitoring of water quality, and sports fishing.  Insects will be collected from diverse mountain stream habitats, and identifications will be performed in the laboratory.  Students may opt to take the Society for Freshwater Science’s Taxonomic Certification exam of eastern EPT to genus at the end of the course (https://stroudcenter.org/sfstcp/exam/). 

Prerequisites: General biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

Register Here

July Courses

Biology and Identification of Ferns 7/5-7/9

*This course is now full. Please consider one of our other course offerings.

Dr. Joey Shaw, UT-Chattanooga

Students will obtain a comprehensive understanding of the seedless vascular plants, or cryptogams, or pteridophytes, including ferns and fern allies like lycopodium, and obscure taxa like the Appalachian gametophyte. Within the framework of classification, taxonomy, and evolution, we will dive deeply into studies of life cycles, morphology, basic anatomy, ecology, taxonomy, and nomenclature. We will take daily field trips within the Southern Appalachians and within a couple hours drive to collect specimens, bring them back to the laboratory, and identify them to species. The majority of our time will be spent either collecting in the field or keying species in the laboratory; that is, we will use the exercise of keying species to learn the important characters for identifying Southern Appalachian pteridophytes. Students will be encouraged to assemble reference collections and the last hours of the course will be spent assembling these collections. We will use various sources for species identification, but the Guide to Tennessee Vascular Plants of Tennessee will be the main key for species identification.

Prerequisites: This course is designed for professional biologists, naturalists, and undergraduate/graduate students that who have an interest in ferns, plant taxonomy, or field botany and who have some experience with dichotomous keys.  No previous experience with ferns is required, but if you have experience I can probably take you further in your knowledge. That is, I have often taught this class and others to a diverse crowd of student’s wide spectrum of knowledge bases. Depending on the different field trips, participants should be prepared to put in at least a couple of 12-hour days.

*This course is now full. Please consider one of our other course offerings.

Fleshy Fungi of the Highlands Plateau 7/12-7/23

Dr. Andy Methven, Eastern Illinois University, Professor Emeritus

Students will be introduced to the fleshy fungi (Ascomycetes and Basidiomycetes) that occur on the Highlands Plateau, typical of the southern Blue Ridge Province. Emphasis will be placed on the analysis of macro- and micro-morphological features in the identification of genera and species as well as the ecological role of fungi in the ecosystem. Additional topics may be added depending on student interest. The daily routine will consist of a morning lecture followed by a field trip until early afternoon. Transportation on field trips will be in a biological station van. Collections will be examined and identified after returning from the field and an opportunity provided to assemble a collection of dried fleshy fungi. Microscopes and chemical reagents necessary for accurate species determinations will be available for use. The laboratory will be open in the evenings for additional study of collections.

Prerequisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor.

Register Here

Field to Database: Collecting Biodiversity Data in the Age of Global Databases 7/12-7/16

Dr. Joey Shaw, UT-Chattanooga

During this course, students will obtain a comprehensive understanding of how biological collections are made in the field and eventually uploaded to national and international data portals, like iDigBio or GBIF. We will help you to download and install important helpful apps and teach you how to use them in series to go from field to data portal. Students will leave the course having collected Plantae specimens, made labels, mounted specimens, and uploaded digital data to global portals. In addition to teaching and focusing on these skills, I can also help you to key out and identify plant species that you might encounter and want to collect in the field, although you should have some cursory skills.


Prerequisites & Prior Training: This course is designed for young professionals who will be making biological collections of plants or fungi (professors, conservation workers, graduate students, undergraduate students, and naturalists), although it is open to others with an interest in this subject. No previous experience is required. Depending on the different field trips, participants should be prepared to put in at least a couple of 12-hour days. It would be great if you have had at least a class in Field Botany, Plant Taxonomy, Local Flora, or similar, but that is not necessary either.

Course Outcome: Leave having collected and digitizes Plantae specimens, including labels, transcribed text data & images.

Register Here

Conservation Genetics of Salamanders 7/26-7/30

Dr. J.J. Apodaca, Tangled Bank Conservation

 The field of conservation genetics is rapidly emerging as an exceedingly vital component of conservation biology. This course focuses on salamanders to explore the fundamentals, cutting edge techniques, theories, and issues surrounding conservation genetics. Salamanders are one of the most endangered vertebrate groups in the world and are extremely diverse in the southern Appalachians, making them an ideal focal group for an introduction to the world of conservation genetics. In this short course, participants will become familiar with how to design, carry out, and interpret a conservation genetic study. We will also focus on learning to identify, work with, and appreciate the local salamander diversity. Participants will become acquainted with commonly used laboratory techniques and current literature pertaining to the conservation genetics of salamanders. This course is designed for students and others interested in working in the field of wildlife management that want to learn more about conservation genetics.


Prerequisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor.

Register Here

Research Applications of Drones in Landscape Ecology: 7/26-7/30

Dr. Susan Cohen and Mr. Fleming Talton, Institute for the Environment, UNC-Chapel Hill 

This short course will explore the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS; drone platforms and sensors) for environmental research and management. The course will consist of a combination of classroom lectures, hands-on UAS flights for data collection, and data processing and interpretation. All flying will be weather-dependent, so the daily schedule will be flexible. The class will collectively design, conduct, and complete a project that culminates in high-resolution mapping imagery and interpretation. We will use both RGB (true color) and multispectral sensors to explore different product types. Class will begin with the basics of drone safety, regulations, and airspace as well as broadly exploring drone applications. Students will obtain hands-on experience in the step-by-step process of planning a mission to meet project objectives to include: flight planning, execution of safety protocols, flying the mission, processing imagery data using photogrammetry software, and exporting imagery and products. 

 Prerequisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor. The course assumes no prior training in UAS flights, so there are no prerequisites or drone experience required. Read-ahead materials will be sent several weeks before the class begins. 

Register Here

In addition to our regular summer courses, HBS often schedules short workshops that are tailored for non-traditional students. These workshops provide opportunities for in-depth study of special topics of relevance to the southern Appalachians and are open to the general public. Workshops, costs, and additional information can be found here. Kindly call the Station, 828.526.2602, to inquire about workshop registration.

Special events and occasional one-day educator workshops are also offered for teacher recertification credit (Science CEU), or NC Environmental Education Criteria II credit, by the Nature Center.