On behalf of the faculty, students, and staff of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, welcome to our symposium and celebration of Vertebrate Natural History.
Natural History can be thought of simply as the study of organisms in their natural environment. The founding director of the MVZ, Joseph Grinnell, recognized the importance of studying organisms in the wild, both in the context of research and in the context of education. The legacy that was started by Grinnell has continued unabated at the MVZ for over one hundred years, and it is that legacy that we celebrate today.
The focus of this symposium is two-fold. First, the course “Natural History of the Vertebrates”, currently known as IB (Integrative Biology) 104, has been taught without interruption for 104 years. In this class, students receive training through lectures and laboratories, but most importantly, they attend field trips every weekend to observe, handle, and study birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians in a variety of habitats. We know from experience that this class has changed many lives. People with no prior experience have gone on to become life-long birders. Others developed a new love of the outdoors and raised children with a similar appreciation. Some have changed their career path. While the success of this course owes much to the people who have taught it over many years, we also understand that its success derives from the organisms themselves and the excitement that comes from seeing animals in nature.
The second, and perhaps more important, focus of our symposium is to highlight the value of natural history education more generally. While a reductionist paradigm has been very successful in biology, many fundamental discoveries derive from a more holistic approach and from studying organisms in their natural setting. We would not have eliminated DDT from the environment if ornithologists had not discovered its effect on bird reproduction in the wild. We would not be able to amplify DNA in a test tube if a naturalist had not discovered that some microbes live in hot springs. And we would not be aware of the effects of our changing climate on the distribution of species if researchers had not gone into the field to make these basic observations. These examples speak to the value of natural history in research, but we also believe that natural history is essential in education. It promotes an appreciation for biodiversity, a love of nature, and a more educated and informed citizenry.
We hope that you enjoy our symposium celebrating a century of natural history education at U.C. Berkeley.
Director, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
This event is hosted by the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.