Instructions for Aquatic Biodiversity Notebooks

The Field Journal
Instructions and suggestions on maintaining a scientific
journal of field experiences
Why keep a field journal?
The goal of the field journal is to help you develop a broader
understanding of the natural history of marine systems.
‘Natural history’ requires extensive observation as its raw
material and yields meaningful and expansive synthesis as a final product.
For centuries the naturalist’s journal has been a tool to accomplish this goal.
In this course, your journal will be critical in developing and supporting ideas
for your final paper. Not only will this practice force you to improve your
powers of observation, but it will also be a place to document observations
for future reference and begin to synthesize your thoughts on changes along
gradients across marine ecosystems.
What you will need
The notebook should be sturdy, bound, and hard-covered; it maybe lined or
un-lined depending on your preference. Bookstores sell blank journals and
ledgers. Un-lined bound notebooks are sold at art supply stores such as Dick
Blick on Busbee. This notebook should be neat and organized (it does not
have to be chronological). The information from your field observations
should be recorded to this journal as soon as possible (i.e. in the field, in the
van, or at camp in the evening) You may also want to carry a small pocketsized notebook for times in the field as soon as it is inconvient to carry the
larger notebook, but be sure to transcribe this information to your journal
as soon as possible.
At the very least, you will need in the field a pencil and easer (mechanical
pencils eliminate the need for a sharpener). In addition, you may incorporate
other media:
 Ink pens (fine tip markers)
 Color pencils or a field water color kit (colors can add important
Types of information to be recorded in the notebooks:
Required Field notes for each site visited:
 date, location (relative to nearest town, identifying county and state),
type of habitat, weather conditions, …
 descriptions of habitat and microhabitats
 list of taxa collected and observed, noting where each taxon is found
within the habitat. Do as best as you can but it is likely that you will not
be able to document all species we encounter; I suggest comparing your
taxa lists with fellow classmate in the van or around the campfire.
Underline genus and species names with straight lines (capitalizing the
former) and put squiggly lines under common names. Include collection
identification number (if done).
 A crude map or diagram of study site indicating where we sampled and
any other relevant information.
You should included additional information as well. Here are some suggestions:
 description of collection techniques
 behaviors of animals in the field
 information espoused by your brilliant instructors (but don’t over do this;
i.e. this is not a place to take lecture notes in the field)
 quick sketches concentrating on topography, habitats, behaviors, parts of
organisms etc., recognizing that organisms collected can be sketched in
more detail back at the lab
 anything else that might be of interest to you or others (be
creative/observant). This might also include observations on local
culture, land practices, etc. Great insights and understanding in science
have arisen by bringing together disparate observations.
 non-visual information (sounds, smells, textures)
 information from laboratory examination of specimens, however the main
focus of the notebook is field observations. You may wish to enhance
field drawings from closer observations made in the field.
Synthesis of information on at least one separate page for each system
visited. Be sure to address the central question of the paper: were there any
physical and biological trends/zonation along the gradients studied? How might
any observed structures and behaviors explain why a given organisms inhabits
that particular location? How do the taxa collected in one environment compare
with those from another habitat, site, or region? How do particular sampling
sites differ physically from one another. Don’t be afraid to speculate. This
may be especially helpful in initiating thoughts relevant to your final paper. You
may also include questions that arise from your observations but are not
immediately answerable from the data at hand.
Criteria used in grading notebooks
Your journal may end up anywhere along a three-way continuum from the
‘scientific’ record, to the ‘artistic’ journal, to the ‘literary’ book. That is
your decision and it is likely that the journal will evolve as the semester
progresses (and hopefully though out your career). However, regardless of
your finished product it must contain relevant scientific information both in
drawings and writings. Specifically the journals will be graded for:
 25% - Completeness, neatness, organization, and clarity (show me
you made an effort).
 25% - Accuracy
 25% - Observation ability – make some original observations
 25% - Synthesis of observations and thoughts - be creative.
You should use both written descriptions and drawings, though the degree
to which you use either will depend on whether you prefer expressing
information in written form or more graphically. Use complete sentences in
your writing. Feel free to be artistic with such things as page layouts and
lettering. Drawings should be labeled as to what they are, their scale (e.g.
2x), and with relevant structures and other information. I suggest using
pencil for the field notebooks. Write on only one side of the page to reduce
smearing. Be Creative. Not all observations need to be immediately relevant
to the study subjects (great ideas in science often arise from incidental
Some tips on field sketchs:
Because time is limited in the field, you may wish to make partial field
sketches then add detail upon return to the van, camp, or home. Quick notes
on colors, textures and detail along side partial sketches will make this
easier upon your return. However, often a quick field sketch alone will
suffice in conveying information.
Sketches may have to be very rapid and
hence very simple. The sketch of an elk
(right) was completed in about 5
seconds from a passing van. Seek out
the lines that immediately jump out at
A scribbling stroke is also a useful technique
for rapid sketches in the field. The image on
the right is enlarged from the ‘hawks in the
tree’ drawing on a previous page. Note the
pencil has rarely been lifted from the page in
parts of the picture.
Also note that the pencil was lifted when
drawing finer branches, Though in reality all
branches on the tree are connected, it is not
necessary (or even desirable) to do this in the