Our 2023 course schedule is here! The dates are firm for all courses, and we will be adding syllabi and course descriptions as they become available. Prior to registering, review all the information on the main Courses and Workshops page to ensure you know what to expect. You can also use the form on that page to sign up to be notified when the registration date has been set.

Click the button below to register for a summer course at HBS.

If you have questions regarding registration, contact us at hbs@wcu.edu.

May Courses

Grasses of the Southern Appalachians: May 8-12

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- (1996)- 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. “Plant Identification Terminology- An Illustrated Glossary” by James G. Harris and Melinda Woolf Harris (2001)- Second Edition. Because dichotomous keys will often use terms related to various plant structures or texture that some students are unfamiliar with, a good illustrated glossary that both defines and illustrates terms is highly recommended for any plant identification course. I have yet to find one better than this one and at $20.95 for a paper back copy from Amazon, it is a steal

Pre-requisites: None, but individuals with experience in plant taxonomy or have taken another plant identification class will grasp the material quicker.

Mosquitoes of the Southern Appalachians: May 15-19

Dr. Brian Byrd (Western Carolina University)

Natural history of mosquitoes (Culicidae) found in the Southern Appalachians, with emphasis on the ecology of mosquitoes of public health relevance. Mosquitoes will be collected from riverine rockpools, phytotelmata, vernal pools, and human created habitats. Common public health surveillance techniques and collection methods (e.g., host-seeking traps, gravid traps, large-bore aspirators) will be used in the field. Mosquitoes (larval and adult) collected in the field with be identified in the laboratory.

Pre-requisites: any introductory biology, ecology, entomology, or environmental health course, or permission of instructor

Southern Appalachian Mayflies, Stoneflies, & Caddisflies: May 15-26

Dr. John Morse (Clemson University, Emeritus)

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 sport fishing.  Insects will be collected from mountain stream habitats, and identifications will be done in the laboratory.
**Note that students need to bring a pair of high quality waders for sampling trips. **

Pre-requisites: Students are expected to have prior training in zoology, but not necessarily entomology.

Introduction to Plant Ecophysiology in the Southern Appalcahian Mountains: May 22-June 2

Dr. Howie Neufeld (Appalachian State University)

A short course on basic plant ecophysiology instrumentation and techniques, designed for beginners and advanced students alike. Students will learn the operating principles behind plant gas exchange (photosynthesis and transpiration), pigment extraction, and plant-water relations. This will include measuring plant water stress and hydraulics, which is how plants move liquid water in their stems. Students will become proficient in the use of portable gas exchange systems, pressure chambers for measuring water stress, hydraulic conductance systems, and fluorescence systems for measuring leaf stress. Much of the course will be field-based and measurements will be done on native plants in the lab and field; weather permitting, students will take field trips to different plant habitats in the Southern Appalachians and learn about the environmental factors governing growth and survival in these unique areas. After mastering the instrumentation and theory during the first week, students will work in groups to plan and conduct a field experiment during the second week, the results of which will be presented at a mini symposium at the conclusion of the course.

Pre-requisites: Students must have completed the introductory biology sequence at their institution AND be at least a sophomore.

June Courses

Southern Appalachian Mammals: June 5-16-Canceled


Dr. Rada Petric (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Dr. Ed Pivorun (Clemson University)

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.

Pre-requisites: Introductory biology, zoology, or permission of the instructor.

Biology and Conservation of Birds: June 12-23

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

Pre-requisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor.

SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE! The Highlands Plateau Audubon Society has providing funding to fully cover the costs of the course, including housing and registration! A limited number of scholarships are available for this course. To apply:



  • Statement of Need explaining why you need aid, and how your coursework at HBS is important to your education or work. Recommended length: 250 words.
  • Letter of Recommendation from either your major professor, or a faculty member who is well acquainted with your academic qualifications. It is your responsibility to confirm that we have received all financial aid materials.

Date for scholarship applications is May 1, 2023. More information about how to apply can be found when you register for the course.

Biology and Identification of Ferns: June 19-23

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. 

Pre-requisites: 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. 

Field to Database: Collecting Biodiversity Data in the Age of Global Databases: June 25-29*

Dr. Joey Shaw (UT-Chattanooga)

*Note course runs Sunday-Thursday*

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 key out and identify plant species that you might encounter and want to collect in the field, although you should have some cursory skills.

Pre-requisites: 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 digitized Plantae specimens, including labels, transcribed text data & images. 

Conservation Genetics of Salamanders: June 26-30-Canceled



Dr. JJ 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.

Pre-requisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor.

July Courses

Introduction to Brightfield & Fluorescence Microscopies: July 10-14-Canceled


Dr. Bob Youker (Western Carolina University)

In this lecture/lab course, students will learn how to prepare their field samples for brightfield and fluorescence microscopic examination. Students will also learn how microscopes generate images, the experimental conditions needed for optimal imaging of their specimens, and learn basic image processing techniques for analysis. The course will be a combination of lecture and hands on specimen preparation and imaging (lab). Students can either provide specimens from their field research, or work with the instructor to collect rotifers and other aquatic micro-invertebrates from the field to use in the lab portion.    

Lab time will be centered on learning the parts and functions of modern brightfield and fluorescence (widefield & confocal) microscopes, preparing specimens (e.g., staining with fluorescent dyes), and acquiring images of their specimens for analysis. Students will learn to acquire images using a widefield fluorescence microscope and take a “field trip” to WCU to use the state-of-the-art Leica Stellaris 5 confocal microscope. We will also discuss some other modern approaches to fluorescence microscopy, such as electron and super-resolution microscopies.  

Each student will prepare a final report that compares brightfield to fluorescence images taken of their samples. The student will explain in detail the features observed using both methodologies and the advantages and disadvantages of each method. The student will also give a short oral presentation on one microscopic technique not covered in the course and this topic will be selected from a list provided by the instructor. 

Pre-requisites: Introductory biology sequence

Forest Ecosystems of the Southern Applachians: July 17-28

Dr. Steph Jeffries (NC State University), Dr. Alan Weakley (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Dr. Julie Tuttle (Ecologist and Biogeographer)

Students in this course will learn how to read the forested landscapes of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Understanding the patterns and processes in forested ecosystems will require students to focus on vegetation, with an emphasis on natural communities. We’ll introduce topics such as biogeography, paleo-ecology, classification of vegetation, regional environmental patterns, succession and community dynamics, vegetation-environment relationships, and current threats to the integrity of these systems across a variety of field sites, which will take us on two multi-day field trips away from the Station. We expect students to actively immerse themselves in the fascinating ecology of the southern Appalachian Mountains, through their enthusiastic participation, keen observation, and careful field notes.

We will go on a few overnight trips during this course which require off-site lodging and restaurant meals off-campus. Students must pay the extra lodging fees ($100, subject to change) when you pay for the course. Participants must be in sufficiently good physical condition to undertake moderately strenuous hikes of several miles each day of the course. If you have any questions about your physical ability to participate in this course, please contact one of the instructors!

Pre-requisites: Students should have had at least one college-level course in ecology, biogeography, and/or botany; and/or have permission of the instructors to take the course.

Fleshy Fungi of the Southern Blue Ridge: July 31-August 11

Dr. Andy Methven (Eastern Illinois University, Emeritus)

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

Pre-requisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

August Courses

Writing the Appalachians: August 7-11

Dr. Sylvia Torti, University of Utah

In this 5-day workshop we will explore the ways that notions of “nature” and “the self” intersect through writing, and we’ll do so embedded in the fabulous Appalachian Mountains.

Using the text Mountains Piled upon Mountains: Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene edited by Jessica Cory, we’ll learn the basic elements of good storytelling through reading and discussion. And then we’ll embark on our own generative storytelling from our personal lives, history and experiences at Highlands Biological Station.

Each day will consist of an invigorating combination of: walks, plant and animal identification, discussion of texts, workshopping of your work (previously submitted) and time to write. We’ll finish the week with a reading open to the HBS community.

This course is only approved for undergraduate Academic Credit: BIOL 493

No later than August 1: Email instructor with 10 pages of double-spaced writing (sylvia.torti@utah.edu). I cannot guarantee that I can review and comment on your work if I don’t receive it by August 1st.

You will be assigned one reading from the Cory book to read per instructions prior to August 7.

Pre-requisites: TBD