The San Diego region offers unparalleled access to diverse habitats for education and field research in ecology. Coastal marine environments include kelp beds, exposed rocky and sandy coastlines, protected bays and estuaries, and salt marshes. The lowlands and foothills form a mosaic of coastal sage scrub, chaparral, remnants of California valley grassland, riparian, chamise chaparral, and woodlands. Several reservoirs within a short distance of campus offer opportunities for freshwater studies. Mountain areas within 1-2 hours drive of SDSU reach elevations of 1500-2000 m and support oak woodlands, oak-pine woodlands, and mixed conifer forests. Desert habitats, including palm canyons, bajadas and washes with a rich flora of succulents and woody plants, creosote bush flats, and sand dunes also lie less than 2 hours from campus. Farther to the east, the agricultural systems of the Imperial and Coachella Valleys and the distinctive ecosystems of the Salton Sea and Colorado River and its delta offer still more research opportunities. Located on the Mexican border, San Diego also has easier access to research areas in Baja California than any other American university.
The Ecology Program has access to a variety of facilities for ecological research, including:
- Special instrument rooms and an analytical facility for analysis of photosynthesis, soil mineralization, plant water potential, plant growth and phenology, and micrometerology;
- the Coastal and Marine Institute Laboratory on San Diego Bay, with a dive locker, indoor and outdoor mesocosm areas, wet labs, cold rooms, and computer stations;
- a microchemical core facility for DNA sequencing;
- Terrestrial and estuarine field stations, with infrastructure and equipment for conducting research on climate change, plant and animal populations, and a variety of communities;
- Vertebrate, invertebrate, and plant collections, and a greenhouse;
- The SDSU diving program, supporting marine research and education in San Diego's bays and coastal waters, and elsewhere;
- A small fleet of field vehicles and boats for marine field research and education.
Some of the research groups associated with the Ecology Program Area are:
The Global Change Research Group studies the effects of global change, including elevated atmospheric CO2 and associated climate change, on the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems, and on the feedbacks from terrestrial ecosystems to atmospheric and global change. There is special and long standing emphasis on arctic and Mediterranean-type ecosystems. Research is focusing on recent losses of carbon dioxide from Arctic regions of Alaska, Russia, and Iceland. Research on the effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 on the Mediterranean-type vegetation of Italy and California is currently underway using a combination of natural CO2 springs and the SDSU MedCO2 RE facility at Sky Oaks Biological Field Station. Studies are focused on the effects of elevated CO2 on ecosystem dynamics and water vapor flux and energy balance of individual plants.
The SDSU Field Station Programs (FSP) support field-based education and research at four reserves in southern California. These reserves provide laboratory and dormitory facilities, equipment, and access to a mosaic of habitat types and a wide range of wildlife. Additionally, the FSP offers several student support opportunities such as the Graduate Student Research Award, the Jordan Dale Covin Memorial Travel Scholarship, and the Edna Bailey Sussman Research Internship (add links to these awards)
The Coastal and Marine Institute coordinates oceanographic and marine studies. Students wishing to pursue a masters or doctoral degree in Ecology may emphasize marine studies and use the research facilities of the newly completed SDSU Coastal Waters Laboratory located on San Diego Bay. The newly completed lab contains wet and dry labs, indoor and outdoor mesocosm facilities with flow-though and recirculated sea water, a dive locker, and storage for small boats.
The Soil Ecology and Restoration Group conducts research on ecosystem dynamics of dry lands. Theoretical analyses of fundamental processes and structures is complemented by applied research in dry land restoration. The primary focus is on soils and below ground processes in arid and semi-arid ecosystems with emphasis on microbial ecology and plant microorganism relationships.