Paul Smith’s College students coming to Russia to get insights on ecology

A group of Paul Smith’s College students are studying the science of winter on both sides of the northern hemisphere.

Eight students in Professor Celia Evans’ International Winter Ecology class will travel to Russia this weekend for the second half of a new course that’s offered over 17 days during the college’s winter break.

Evans said she used to teach winter ecology as part of a full, spring-semester-long course. Three years ago, she started a collaboration with the biology department at Moscow State University, and this year winter ecology is being offered as a special January term class.

“We’ve been doing half the course here over the last seven days, learning our species, learning our tracks and understanding adaptations to the winter environment in animals and plants,” Evans said. “So we start (the course) here, and then after six days, we’ll fly from JFK to Moscow.”

After arriving in Moscow, the students will travel about an hour to the Russian university’s Zvenigorod field station, where they’ll receive 10 days of instruction from a combination of PSC and Moscow State faculty.

“It’s about an hour-and-a-half northwest of Moscow, in a deciduous forest ecosystem,” Evans said. “It’s beautiful. It’s on the Moscow River. They have four faculty teaching us winter ecology there. They’ll be learning their tree species, doing a lot of biological drawing and animal tracking, and we’ll have lecturers coming from Moscow State. It’s going to be really fun.”

The Paul Smith’s students will be joined in the program by three Russian students who are coming from Siberia.

“They’re my colleague in Siberia’s students,” Evans said. “There are two Croatian students and a faculty member from Zagreb to join us, and there will be a short period of time with a Chinese delegation from Beijing.

“We’re going to do small research projects on hydrobiology, mammology, and we’ll be doing field excursions and all kinds of different mini-projects that we’ll present at a big event at the end of our time at the field station.”

Evans described the opportunity for her students as a comparative one, both academically and culturally.

“A lot of it for me is getting the kids to see that people in countries where we don’t travel often or we have negative government relationships are just people like us,” Evans said. “I’m passionate about that now because I have a lot of really good friends over there since we started this collaboration.”

During their time in Russia, the students will also visit a monastery in Zvenigorod and spend a day touring Moscow.

As part of their studies here, Evans’ students this week participated in a winter tracking workshop at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center. The workshop was led by Susan Morse, founder and science director of Keeping Track, a Vermont-based nonprofit that teaches science-based tracking techniques to professional biologists and citizen scientists.

“We’re giving the students some more fodder for their gun, so to speak, as they go to Russia and try to understand the habitat and see who’s out there,” Morse said. “Part of it is track identification, but for us an awful lot is more sophisticated than that. We teach a lot about animal behavior, animal habitat uses, animal foraging patterns – how to think holistically about, ‘OK, if we want to find moose, where do we look?'”

Morse said the VIC is a great venue for studying animal tracking and habitat.