Highlands Biological Station is open to visitors. Masks are still required in the Nature Center, but are no longer required on campus, including the Botanical Garden. Highlands Biological Station is offering academic and public programming this summer. 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.

Our 2019 course schedule is here! We do not have course descriptions or syllabi for all our courses yet, but the dates are firm, so start planning your summer courses now. Explore the full list of summer offerings below…

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

Biology and Conservation of Birds: May 13-24th

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.  Numerous field trips in the local area will acquaint students with the rich bird fauna of the region.

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

Apply Now

Creatively Communicating Biology & Ecology: May 13-17

Dr. Hannah Rogers, University of Edinburgh

This course is creative writing workshop with a focus on the natural world.  We will experiment with new approaches to biology, ecology, and the environment through creative nonfiction, personal environmental essays, flash fiction, and poetry.Writing is fundamental to the practice of science, and imagination shapes science observation and experimentation. We observe, think, and write about individual organisms, ecosystems, and patterns and anomalies, to record our findings, to reach broader publics, and to discover our own thoughts.

In this course, students will experience the environment at Highlands and use these experiences to create a portfolio. Harnessing the power of thinking through writing in tandem with readings from writers, poets, journalists, scientists, activists, and artists. The course will also include field trips with plein air writing components, directing observation through writing, and opportunities to share work beyond the classroom. Methods including craft processes like drafts, peer review, and individual feedback will be emphasized. Evaluations will be based on final portfolios.

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

Apply Now

Landscape Ecology & Conservation of Amphibians: May 20-31

Dr. William Peterman, Ohio State University

Amphibians are among the most imperiled taxa globally, with habitat loss and degradation posing the greatest threats. Landscape ecology and conservation biology provide an appropriate lens to address these threats. This course will provide an overview of landscape ecology and conservation biology principles as they pertain to amphibian ecology and life history. Students will gain an understanding of course topics through lecture, discussion of primary literature, as well as hands-on exercises and field excursions. Students will also obtain a foundational understanding of GIS technologies through lab exercises. There will be an emphasis on the salamander diversity of the Southern Appalachians and their habitats throughout the course.

Prerequisites: Zoology, Herpetology or Vertebrate Biology; Ecology or Population Biology; or permission of instructor

Apply Now

Flora of the Blue Ridge: May 27- June 7

Dr. Paul Manos, Duke University Download Syllabus

The rich flora of the Southern Appalachians provides a natural experiment for studying a broad range of plant communities. As one of the largest refuges of temperate plants in the world, a combination of high precipitation and varied topography has generated a unique blend of species, many at their southern range limit. This basic course in botany is designed for students of all sorts, professional biologists, and amateur enthusiasts. The goals are to introduce the Blue Ridge Flora with a community-based approach through lab and field observations: to emphasize basic distinguishing features among lycophytes, ferns and seed plants; to focus on field characteristics of common and rare species and their habitats; to use keys to identify species; and to better understand the ecology of the major plant communities of the region and the biogeography of the species.

Prerequisites: Introductory biology, ecology, training in natural history or permission of instructor.

Apply Now

June Courses

Conservation Biology in the Field: June 3-14

Dr. Peter White, UNC- Chapel  Hill (Download Syllabus)

The goal of this class is to review all the biological knowledge that is essential to conservation, ranging from genetics to populations to ecosystems and from small scales to broad ones, while focusing on the diverse and complex landscape of the Southern Appalachians.

Some of the material may be review from general biology or ecology classes, albeit with new conservation-themed examples, and some will be new to you because the work in question is only carried out in a conservation context. Examples of competencies gained are the following: ability to evaluate the relative contributions of niche-environment relations and spatial-temporal constraints to biodiversity patterns and the consequence of these patterns for conservation design; understanding how genetic diversity is affected by effective population size; understanding how extinction risk is affected by the size, number, and distribution of populations; ability to construct, in a conceptual sense, population and metapopulation models; understanding concepts of ecosystem dynamics, resistance, resilience, and adaptability; ability to critically analyze modern conservation issues like invasive species, climate change and change in other ecological processes, habitat loss and fragmentation, trophic cascades, ecological restoration, and ex situ conservation.

The key competency to gain is to think critically about scientific findings, to see where uncertainties and opportunities for new research lie, and to use the findings of biological science as a conservation tool box.

Prerequisites: General biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

Apply Now

Rock Pool Community Ecology: June 17-28

Dr. Brian Byrd, Western Carolina University, Dr. James Vonesh, Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Michael McCoy, East Carolina University 

Students in this inquiry-based field course will examine major theories of community ecology and test their applicability to understanding patterns of aquatic macroinvertebrate biodiversity in Southern Appalachian riverine rock pools.  Through a combination of lecture, lab, and fieldwork, students will gain a foundational understanding of community ecology theory, macroinvertebrate sampling methods, and species diversity metrics while testing the roles of predator and community diversity on the presence of an invasive mosquito species.

Prerequisites: introductory biology, ecology, or permission of the instructors

Apply Now

Southern Appalachian Mayflies, Stoneflies, & Caddisflies: June 17-28

Dr. John Morse, Clemson University

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 (http://www.sfstcp.com/). 

Prerequisites: General biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

Apply Now

July Courses

Biology of Spiders: July 15-26

Dr. Kefyn Catley, Western Carolina University (Download Syllabus)

This course will present a comprehensive introduction to spider systematics, morphology, behavior, physiology, and ecology. Afternoons are devoted to fieldwork, with the objective of assembling a significant collection of the extraordinarily rich local spider fauna while studying spider ecology and behavior. Most evenings will be available for students to work on identification.  Working in small groups students will be required to undertake a short, supervised self-selected research project investigating some aspect of spider biology, the results of which will be shared at the end of the course.

Prerequisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

Apply Now

Fern Identification and Ecology: July 15-19

Dr. Joey Shaw, UT – Chattanooga (Download Syllabus)

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 12-hour days.

Apply Now

Biology and Conservation of Snakes: July 22-26

Dr. Chris Jenkins, Orianne Society Download Syllabus 

Students will be introduced to the global diversity of snakes, snake biology and conservation, and the natural history and ecology of Southern Appalachian Snakes. The daily schedule will include a morning lecture followed by a field trip returning around 5-6 PM each day. Lectures will include live animals and field trips will be heavily focused on learning field techniques and natural history.


Prerequisites: Introductory biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

Apply Now

Southern Appalachian Mayflies, Stoneflies, & Caddisflies : July 29-August 9

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 (http://www.sfstcp.com/). 

Prerequisites: General biology, ecology, or permission of instructor

Apply Now

Wildness and the Anthropocene: July 29- August 9

Dr. David Henderson, Western Carolina University and Brent Martin, Alarka Institute

Some scientists have proposed the formal recognition of a new epoch in the geologic record, the Anthropocene, in recognition of the immense and dominating impact of humans on the natural world. Although the governing bodies of geology have yet to make the call, the term has become a lightning rod for discussion about the changing relationship of people and planet. This course will explore the proposed designation and what the age of the human means for nature and wildness. Readings and field experiences will address the limits of preservation, the case for intensive planetary management, the possibilities of rewilding and the importance of megafauna. We will draw on a rich array of voices, past and present, as we contemplate the uncertain and changing future.

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

Apply Now

August Courses

Grass Identification: August 26-30

 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 a hand lens and dissecting scope, 3) team keying of grass specimens, and 4) field identification. Dichotomous keys, hard copy printouts of a powerpoint 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.


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.