Environmental Science at LMU: The Living City (Post 2)

High school students taking the summer environmental science course at LMU this summer probably never dreamed they’d be able to see a Monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus freshly emerged from its chrysalis down at the Ballona Discovery Park, or conduct a chemistry lab where they were able to analyze concentrations of red-dye and sugar-water solution, to determine the amount of chemical degradation. But, in Dr. Auger’s environmental science course, which is being run like a freshman college course, the sky really is the limit!

This first week of the program was an amazing week for students, who became immersed in learning about the animals in an urban setting, like Northern mockingbirds Mimus polyglottos, hummingbirds, Red-tailed hawks Buteo jamaicensis, several species of swallows , aquatic birds like the Snowy egret Egretta thula, and their sometimes fragile existence in an urban metropolis like Los Angeles. However, nature always finds a way to survive, and Dr. Auger’s aim, along with his LMU-CURes teaching team (Maria Curley, Erich Eberts, Melissa Morado, Giovanni Di Franco, and Lisa Fimiani), was to show students how the human-animal relationship in an urban setting CAN be a successful one, where many species can co-exist and even thrive.

This week in lectures and labs students learned all about mockingbird vocalizations, hummingbird physiology and energetics, bird biodiversity, sociobiology, and taxonomy, the power of citizen science, along with field science technology. One lab period students got to mix their own sugar-water solutions for hummingbird feeders and test the concentration with a spectrometer. They then learned how to position and deploy an internet protocol (IP) camera in the field, aimed at the feeders, to capture hummingbird visitation rates. At the same time, groups conducted direct observations, as part of a control for the cameras, and to experience life as a field biologist.

During another lab period the class visited the Ballona Discovery Park and the Ballona Freshwater Marsh, all part of the Ballona Wetlands preserve. The species observed were extensive, and a bird survey was conducted on the field trip, and submitted to i-Bird at Cornell. A bird that is rare around here this time of year was captured on camera … the Yellow-headed blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus … a spectacular bird! What a great immersion for students into the world of birds in Southern California, and a discussion about the environmental challenges and joys of managing a wetlands ecosystem. The group even happened upon a Red-eared slider turtle Trachemys scripta elegans! One never knows what one will find down at the freshwater marsh!

Students have one more week of classes for this summer college immersion course for high school students from all over the country. To learn more about the environmental science course at LMU, go to:


See below for some pictures of this past week’s course adventures!