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Division of Continuing and Global Education

High Altitude Biology

For current Fresno State students
Summer 2023

An immersive program where students monitor their physiological responses to high altitude; lead discussions on how insects, mammals, birds, fish, and plants survive the high-altitude environment; investigate plant diversity; and discuss the negative impacts climate change and pollution have on high altitude plants and animals. This course will complement several undergraduate biology courses (e.g. plant anatomy, plant taxonomy, developmental biology, comparative animal physiology, evolution, and endocrinology).

Students will experience firsthand the beauty and fragility of California's forests as they become the next generation of stewards for our natural spaces. 

Course Information

BIOL 189T. High Altitude Biology
3 Units

Course Description: High altitudes are characterized by differences in atmospheric pressure that vary predictably across elevational gradients. Hypoxia, in particular, is one of the most important factors that influences performance and survival in both plants and animals. In animals, biochemical changes in the blood-O2 transport protein hemoglobin (Hb), for example, have been shown to mitigate the effects of chronic exposure to hypoxia in high-altitude adapted populations. Biochemical adaptations in plant respiration and photosynthesis have allowed plants to survive in elevations above 5000 meters (16,000 feet). However, selection on Hb represents only one component of O2 transport. Important mechanistic changes also have occurred at other points of O2 transport involving both corrective and diffusive processes (e.g. breathing and pulmonary O2 diffusion, circulatory O2 delivery, and tissue O2 diffusion and metabolism). 

Course Goals: Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand how plants and animals have adapted to, and survive living in, high altitude environments (e.g. hypoxia and temperature extremes).
  2. Appreciate the diversity of high altitude flora and fauna.
  3. Understand how climate change is negatively impacting the flora and fauna, as well as their biology adaptations.

Course Materials: There is no text for this course. Everything will be provided on Canvas.

Course Schedule

Schedule for High Altitude Biology, Summer 2023
Week Dates Location Topics
Week 1 July 24-28 On-Campus (Science 322) and Backpacking Trip (July 26 Only) Introduction to class, Outdoor safety, Plant metabolism & photosynthesis, Experiential learning, Human/animal respiration, Acute Mountain Sickness & Safety.
Week 2 July 30 - August 4 Yosemite (Backpacking Trip, Departure on Sunday) Monitoring physiological responses, Photosynthesis experiment, Cognition games, Lectures.
Week 3 August 7-11 On-Campus (Science 322) Sierra club presentation, lectures on effect of climate change and pollution on high altitude plants and animal biology, group project completion and presentations.



BIOL 189T. High Altitude Biology
Section 80
Class no. 50318
Instructors: Dr. Larry Riley and Dr. Alejandro Calderon-Urrea
Permission number required; contact Dr. Larry Riley at to enroll.

Course Fee: $1,014
Payment Deadline: 24 hours of enrollment
Please mark your payment as "Payment-Continuing and Global."

Enrollment Deadline: July 26, 2023
Census Date: July 29, 2023
Drop Deadline (100% Refund): July 23, 2023
Drop Deadline (65% refund): July 27, 2023