James River Rock Pools

Photo by Dr. James Vonesh

Starting in May 2017, we have been conducting teaching modules at the Belle Isle rock pools in downtown Richmond every semester as part of Introductory Biology (BIOL 202) and Geography (GEOG 250) classes. This work is conducted in collaboration with James Vonesh, a community ecologist at VCU, and includes several graduate student research projects. These active learning and inquiry-driven practices include field work and laboratory exercises in addition to independent student research projects. We have developed an online learning module that can be used anywhere. During the summer of 2017, we began the project by hosting 17 Richmond Public Schools tenth-grade students, along with four UR student mentors, to map the ecology of the James River rock pools using GIS technology on smartphones and tablets to collect, update, and analyze information on the aquatic insects living along the river in downtown Richmond.

Dr. Kristine Grayson, Professor of Biology and GIS Technician Taylor Holden sample a large rock pool (Photo by Kayla Sherman).

For more information on the James River Rock Pools:

Science in the Park: Rock Pools

Science in the Park: Geology

VCU Rock Pool Outreach


Bukach, N., Lookingbill, T., Davidson, A., Vonesh, J. R., Grayson, K. (2019). Island biogeography, spatial ecology, and macroinvertebrate species diversity in Richmond’s rock pools. QUBES Educational Resources. doi:10.25334/Q43F14


Bukach, N., Grayson, K., Davidson, T., Vonesh, J., Lookingbill, T. (2019). Biogeography in Richmond’s rock pools: creating spatial analysis curriculum for place-based community learning across disciplines and institutions. American Association of Geographers. Washington, D.C.

Grayson, K., T. Lookingbill, A. Davidson, L. Thompson, E. Betts, A. Wright, N. Bukach, and J. Vonesh. 2018. Poster: Using rock pool communities for collaborative course-based research experiences in biodiversity and spatial ecology. Ecological Society of America. New Orleans, Louisiana.

Winkler, M., T. Lookingbill, N. Bukach, K. Grayson, K. Browne, T. Holden, C. Jackson, W. Shuart, and J. Vonesh. 2018. Flooding frequency in rock pool communities of the James River in Virginia. Ecological Society of America. New Orleans, Louisiana.