The Station offers several courses each summer at the advanced undergraduate/graduate level dealing with the ­special biological features of the southern Appalachians and with areas of study that are appropriate for investigation at a mountain field station. Credit for all courses is available through either UNC-Chapel Hill or Western Carolina University.  Students may take courses for credit through these institutions and then transfer the credit to their home institution. Please follow the Apply Now link below.

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. 


May Courses

Identification of Bryophytes: May 18- May 22

Dr. Paul Davison, University of North Alabama & Ms. Becky Smucker, Asheville, NC

The Highlands area harbors an incredible diversity and abundance of bryophytes and is the perfect setting for this course that will focus on the identification of mosses, liverworts, and hornworts.  Considerable time will be devoted to microscopic study and the techniques needed to successfully demonstrate character states.  Taxonomic keys to local genera will be provided.  Habitat requirements and local diversity will be explored during daily field trips. Lectures will explain morphological features used in identification.  In addition to morphology and ecology of bryophytes in general, participants will be introduced to regional species of conservation concern.  Participants will build a personal herbarium of reference specimens.  This course is suitable for naturalists, professionals, and advanced undergraduate/graduate students with a strong interest in practical taxonomy that relies on microscopic characters.

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

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Comparative Temperate - Tropical Ecology & Biogeography at Highlands Biological Station & Wildsumaco Biological Station: May 24 - May 30 [Highlands] & May 31 - June 12 [Ecuador]

Dr. James Costa, HBS & Western Carolina University, and Travis Knowles, WBS & Francis Marion University 

An introductory exploration of the ecology and biogeography of temperate-zone and tropical biodiversity hotspots, from the southern Appalachians to Andean Ecuador.  Based at two mountain biological field stations (Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, NC and Wildsumaco Biological Station, Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, Ecuador), we will take a field-based comparative approach to exploring southern Appalachian and Amazonian Andean montane ecology and biogeography in the spirit of the explorer-naturalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  We will consider the geological context of the Appalachians and Andes, comparative biogeography / ecology of these regions in terms of the ecological and historical factors that shape their biota, big-picture patterns of latitudinal and elevational diversity gradients, principles of forest community structure and function, and representative plant, bird, and mammalian groups using camera traps and other techniques.

  Prerequisites Introductory Biology sequence, at least one course at the 200 level or above in Biology, Environmental Science, or Geosciences/Natural Resources Management, or permission of instructor.

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June Courses

Southern Appalachian Mammals: June 15 - 26

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

This mammals 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.

Apply Now

Southern Appalachian . Mayflies, Stoneflies, & Caddisflies [Session 1]: June 15 - June 26

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 ( 

 Prerequisites: General biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

 Apply Now

Southern Appalachian Mayflies, Stoneflies, & Caddisflies [Session 2]: June 29 - July 10

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 ( 

Prerequisites: General biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

Apply Now

Sedges of the Blue Ridge: June 1 - June 5

Dr. Dwayne Estes, Austin Peay University


Apply Now

Biology & Conservation of Birds: June 1 - June 12

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

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 4000-foot range in elevation.  This basic course in ornithology covers morphology, systematics, ecology, conservation, and behavior of birds.  Numerous field trips in the local area will acquaint students with the rich bird fauna of the region.

Scholarships Available from the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society (learn more here).

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 2020! 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 to: Dr. James T. Costa, HPAS scholarship, Highlands Biological Station, 265 N. Sixth Street, Highlands, NC 28741.

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

 Apply Now


Biology of Southern Appalachian Salamanders: June 1 - June 13

 Dr. Ken Kozak, University of Minnesota & Dr. Joe Pechmann, WCU (download syllabus)

The Southern Appalachians are renowned for the diversity of their salamander fauna.  This course acquaints students with these salamanders and shows how studies of them have enhanced our understanding of such major evolutionary and ecological topics as the reconstruction of evolutionary histories, species concepts, life history evolution, and community structure.  Each topic will include lectures, field and laboratory exercises, and discussions of original research papers.  Field trips to significant salamander locations in different southern Appalachian mountain ranges highlight the course.

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

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Grasses of the Southern Appalachians: June 8 - June 12

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.

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Biology & Conservation of Lichens June 29 - July 3

Dr. Jessica Allen, Atlanta Botanical Garden & 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. 

Apply Now

July Courses

Biology of Southern Appalachian Fishes: July 6 - July 17

Dr. Mollie Cashner, Austin Peay University

The southern Appalachians supports one of the richest fresh water fish faunas in North America and is part of an extensive southern/southeastern area that has well over 600 species. This larger region has been compared to a tropical rain forest in terms of its diversity, which is not equaled by any other temperate area. The course will focus on the diversity, evolution, biogeography and behavior of fishes primarily in the Southern Appalachians. During the course students will engage in a number of fish collection techniques, including seining and in-stream snorkeling (these streams are cold, so wetsuits are a must). Students will learn to identify the major families and genera both in the field and in the lab, learn basic fish identification techniques with a subset of focal species, and conduct field and lab-based observational studies. Regular lectures and discussion of current peer-reviewed journal articles will enhance and compliment the field experiences.

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

Apply Now

Fleshy Fungi of the Highlands Plateau: July 13 - July 24

Dr. Andy Methven, Savannah State University (download syllabus)

 Students will be introduced to the fleshy fungi (Ascomycetes and Basidiomycetes) that occur on the Highlands Plateau during peak mushroom season. 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.

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Conservation Genetics of Salamanders: July 27 - July 31

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, one of the most endangered vertebrate groups in the world, to immerse students in the fundamentals and cutting edge techniques, theories, and issues surrounding conservation genetics. Throughout the course, students will become familiar with how to design, carry out, and interpret a conservation genetics study. Students will also become acquainted with commonly used laboratory techniques and current literature pertaining to the conservation genetics of salamanders.



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August Courses

Cliff & Rock Outcrop Communities of the Southern Appalachians: August 3 – August 7

 Laura Boggess, Mars Hill University & Gary Kauffman, USFS, National Forest in NC (undergrad credit only)

Rock outcrop and cliff communities represent a small fraction of land area in the Southern Appalachians but contain a disproportionately large number of rare species and unique community types. This workshop will give you first-hand experience of several of these unique and beautiful habitats, including high elevation granitic domes, high elevation rocky summits, montane cliffs, and montane red cedar woodlands. We will spend part of each day in the field (with at least one full-day trip) as well as time in the lab, identifying species and discussing cliff-related scientific literature. We hope you will gain a better understanding and deeper appreciation of the diversity, ecology, and conservation value of Southern Appalachian outcrop and cliff communities.

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

Apply Now


Field to Database: Collecting Biodiversity Data in the Age of Global Databases
August 3 – August 7

Dr. Joey Shaw, UC Foundation Professor of Biological Sciences, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga & Caleb Powell M.S. Candidate; The University of Tennessee at 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 would certainly be open and we would make it interesting to anyone 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 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.

Apply Now


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.