Situated within a megadiverse biodiversity-hotspot, Singapore has drastically-reduced natural areas but remains surprisingly species-rich. However, many of us lack exposure to nature in a highly-urban Singapore – leading to the commonly-asked colloquial question – “Singapore got biodiversity meh?”. This module offers a holistic study of Singapore’s natural history (i.e., biodiversity, as well as the philosophies and methods in the study of biodiversity itself), allowing students to appreciate how the combination of rich natural heritage, colonial history, infrastructural capabilities and cultural biases has created unique opportunities and challenges for biodiversity studies in Singapore.
In the course of the module, we will study how Singapore’s biodiversity landscape, as well as the motivations and methods for studying biodiversity, have evolved across Singapore’s history. In retracing how prominent naturalists explored Singapore’s biodiversity in the past, we imagine how they would do it today using current techniques. In becoming naturalists, students will apply knowledge from multiple disciplines, and also practise naturalist skills that can be intuitively picked up by non-biologists. As such, this module has a strong science-based field and lab component. Finally, this module features a component that emphasizes science communication and public engagement, a skill-set that has often been lacking in science pedagogy.
A naturalist has both knowledge of the natural world as well as a set of skills that allows them to study it. In this module, a student will acquire natural history knowledge, organised into four realms:
- Biodiversity: Certain core concepts in biodiversity are important to a naturalist when they design their research of the natural world. Here, students learn about the terminologies and definitions used in biodiversity and natural history studies. They will also learn about the factors affecting biodiversity, and how natural history studies relate to other scientific and anthropocentric concerns (e.g., ecosystem services).
- Singapore’s Natural Heritage: A naturalist must have some prior knowledge of the natural world that they investigate. Here, students will learn about the types of natural habitats in Singapore, as well as a history of natural history from Singapore’s colonial era (e.g., famous naturalists such as A.R. Wallace and H.N. Ridley) to the present day (e.g., the numerous nature appreciation groups). They will also learn about how the Anthropocene and human change has affected Singapore’s natural history, and vice-versa.
- Organismal Biology: Likewise, a naturalist must have some prior knowledge about the organism that they intend to study. Here, students will learn how to study the organismal biology (i.e., forms and functions, population patterns, and ecological interactions) of three groups of organisms across the energy pyramid of life: plants, insects and birds.
- Species-based Research: Specimens are central to the research conducted by natural historians. Here, students learn about species concepts and how these concepts affect the identification process for a specimen, and also how the methods and motivations for research have changed for naturalists in the past, to biologists today.
Furthermore, students will practise the skills used by a naturalist to study the natural world. Students will practise five types of skill-sets:
- Natural History Documentation: A naturalist needs to be able to document natural phenomena and organisms in an organized, scientific way. Here, students will learn how to organise field notes, as well as basics in scientific illustration in order to document a specimen both in the field and in the lab.
- Specimen handling: In addition to documentation, a naturalist needs to know how to deal with specimens for further study. Here, students learn how to collect, process and preserve different types of specimens, and how to prepare them for scientific study.
- Identification: A naturalist needs to be able to identify the organism that they are studying. Here, students will learn how to use taxonomic identification tools such as dichotomous keys and spot-character sets to help them identify specimens.
- Data Analysis: A naturalist will then need to make sense of the data they collect so that their findings can make biological sense. Here, students will learn how to analyse their findings and relate them to ecological and biological phenomena.
- Science Communication: As with any researcher, naturalists need to be able to communicate their findings to their target audience. Here, students will learn how to present their findings into a format that can be utilized by other researchers, as well as translate scientific concepts and findings into a version that the layperson can relate to.
In general, the weekly workload is 4 hours of contact time and 6 hours of preparatory work. The format for the 4 hour contact time will be variable: Here, students attend two 2 hour classes of either lectures, tutorials/ laboratory work or fieldtrips.
Students will additionally be required to attend practicals on two Saturdays: 24th Feb (bird specimen dissections, 2 hours) and 17th Mar (BioBlitz, 4 hours). An off in-lieu will be given on the last lecture slot, and overall contact time will still remain as 52 hours.
As this is a natural history module, there is heavy emphasis on practical fieldwork and biological specimen handling. Students will be required to:
- Conduct fieldwork in terrestrial non-urban environments (in and around Kent Ridge)
- Process plant specimens (collect and create plant presses)
- Process bird specimens (documenting and dissecting dead bird specimens)
- Process insect specimens (collecting, killing and preserving insect specimens via pinning or alcohol)
Any prospective students unwilling to undergo any of the above activities (e.g., killing insect specimens) are highly encouraged to consider other modules.
Please note that certain portions of the lesson plan may be changed/swapped around, subject to circumstances as they arise (e.g., inclement weather which can affect field trips).
|17-Jan(Wed)||Introduction to Natural History Studies||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|19-Jan (Fri)||Concepts in Biodiversity||1600-1800||USP-TR1|
|24-Jan (Wed)||Basics of Scientific illustrations||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|26-Jan (Fri)||Natural History Observeration and Documentation||1600-1800||USP-TR1 & Outdoors|
|31-Jan Wed)||Plant Organismal Biology and Identification||1600-1800||LKCNHM Learning Lab 1|
|02-Feb (Fri)||Field botany in the Adinandra Belukar||1600-1800||Kent Ridge (Kent Ridge Road)|
|07-Feb (Wed)||Overview of Singapore's Natural Heritage||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|09-Feb (Fri)||The Museum as a Repository of Natural History & Class Quiz (Botanical Identification)||1600-1800||
|16-Feb (Fri)||CHINESE NEW YEAR||-||-|
|21-Feb (Wed)||Avian Organismal Biology and Identification||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|23-Feb (wed)||Field ornithology at Kent Ridge||1600-1800||Kent Ridge (Kent Ridge Road)|
|24-Feb (Sat)||Bird Specimen Documentation and Dissection||1300-1500||
LKCNHM Learning Lab 1
|07-Mar (Wed)||Ecological Sampling Techniques & Class Quiz (Avian Identification)||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|09-Mar (Fri)||Insect Organismal Biology and Identification||1600-1800||LKCNHM Learning Lab 1|
|14-Mar (Wed)||Insect Specimen Processing and Vouchering||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|16-Mar (Fri)||Modern Biodiversity Discovery Projects & BioBlitz Preparation||1600-1800||USP-TR1 & Outdoors|
|17-Mar (Sat)||BioBlitz in Kent Ridge Park||0800-1200||Kent Ridge Park|
|21-Mar (Wed)||Bioblitz Sample Processing||1600-1800||LKCNHM Learning Lab 1|
|23-Mar (Fri)||Bioblitz Sample Analysis||1600-1800||LKCNHM Learning Lab 1|
|28-Mar (Wed)||What is a species, and how do we identify them?||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|30-Mar (Fri)||GOOD FRIDAY||-||-|
|04-Apr (Fri)||Learning about a Species through Literature||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|06-Apr (Fri)||Science Communication Principles||1600-1800||USP-TR1|
|11-Apr (Wed)||The Ethics of Killing (guest lecture by Peter Ng)||1600-1800||USP-SR1|
|13-Apr (Fri)||Biodiversity Wars in Singapore||1600-1800||USP-TR1|
|18-Apr (Wed)||Biodiversity Festival Exhibition||1600-1800||USP Common Space (TBC)|
|20-Apr (Fri)||OFF IN-LIEU||
Total no. contact hours: 52
Black text denotes class-based (lecture and tutorial) activities
Blue text denotes lab-based activities
Green text denotes outfield-based activities
There will be no final examinations for this module. Students will be graded entirely based on the following continual assessments:
Knowledge and Concepts Component (5%)
- Class Quiz (5%)
Botany Component (20%)
- Field-based Report (15%)
- Class Quiz (5%)
Ornithology Component (20%)
- Field-based Report (15%)
- Class Quiz (5%)
Entomology Component (20%)
- Field-based Report (20%)
Science Communication Component (30%)
- Exhibition Presentation Assessment (15%)
- Science Communication Essay (15%)
Overall Class Participation (5%)
As this is a new module, there may be some minor reshuffling of assessment percentages. This will be discussed with the class beforehand.
Suggested Reading List
- Barnard, Timothy P. Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore. NUS Press, 2014.
- Conniff, Richard. The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth. W.W. Norton, 2011.
- Gaston, Kevin J, and John I Spicer. Biodiversity: An Introduction (Second Edition). Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.
- Chong, Kwek Yan, and Hugh T. W. Tan and Richard T. Corlett. A Checklist of the Total Vascular Plant Flora of Singapore: Native, Naturalised and Cultivated Species. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, 2009.
- Laws, John Muir, and Emilie Lygren. The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling (First Edition). Heyday, 2016.
- Marshall, Stephen A. Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity. Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc., 2006.
- Tan, Hugh T.W., et al. The Natural Heritage of Singapore (Third Edition). Prentice Hall, 2010.
- Yong, Ding Li, et al. A Naturalist's Guide to the Birds of Singapore. John Beaufoy Publishing, 2017.