El Pahuma

Lalo Loor








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Tropical Ecosystems: Andes Amazon Pacific Coast


May 27 - June 25, 2016

Application Deadline: March 4

Enrollment Deadline: first Monday in April (link)

Course Description     Information Packet     Pre/Post Course Opportunities     Obtaining Credit    
    Application Instructions      Semester Program

Course Description & Schedule Overview

Cotopaxi volcanoThe Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation's four-week field course in Ecuador is designed to provide you with first-hand knowledge of and experience in some of the richest ecosystems on earth.  During the course, you will travel from the dry Pacific coast to the steamy Amazon rainforests of Ecuador, traversing the Andes mountains along the way while studying the diversity and ecology of tropical ecosystems. The course emphasizes hands-on learning of field methods used in ecological research.  The course will consist of daily lectures and field activities (see course syllabus in the course information packet), supplemented by readings and group discussions. Students will also conduct short group research projects designed to gain practice with field sampling techniques and equipment commonly used in field studies. Students will formulate a hypothesis, collect data in the field, and present their findings to the class. 

The course begins in Quito, capital city of Ecuador, cradled within the inter-Andean plateau at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet. We will make the charming (and charmingly named) suburb of Cumbaya our base of operations. Our first day is dedicated to shopping for rubber boots and ponchos, getting started on lectures and GPS training, and a visiting the parks and town square of Cumbaya.

OrchidFor our first field adventure, we depart the capital city and travel over the western cordillera of the Andes. Students will hike and Mountain_Toucancamp in the virgin cloud forest at the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve, a private reserve developed as a joint project between the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation and the local landowners, the Lima family. We will learn about the lush montane forest flora, concentrating on orchids and other epiphytic plants which grow in abundance in the reserve. We may have a chance to see the incredible, blue-breasted Mountain Toucans, or the enormous Powerful Woodpecker. Elusive Spectaclerd Bears also call El Pahuma home, and have been seen by past courses (you have to be very quiet!). We visit the stunning Sendero de Los Yumbos, an ancient trail worn deep into the earth by thousands of years of use. Field activities will concentrate on plant identification and collection, and night walks to search for frogs (several new species were recently discovered at Pahuma).  After hiking down the steep hill from the high research cabin, known as the Bear's Den, we can cool off and clean up in the reserve's cascading waterfalls. At Pahuma students learn how to collect botanical voucher specimens, and gain first-hand experience in how private lands conservation projects work -- and the challenges they face -- in the remote mountains of Ecuador.

Paramo researchTo enjoy the extreme variety of ecosytems in Ecuador, we then climb into the Andes to explore the tropic's equivalent of the tundra, otherwise known as the páramo, with its highly adapted plants and animals. We visit the strange, high-elevation Polylepis forests, whose papery-barked trees enclose a quiet, protected environment that almost makes you believe a hobbit could walk out from behind a trunk.  Higher still, an amazing diversity of ground-hugging plants live survive the cold mountain air, along with deer, paramo wolf, and fantastic bird life.  We might even catch a glimpse of an Andean Condor!  Students learn techniques for estimating diversity, sampling vegetation, and assessing the effects of altitude on vegetation and climate.  While working, we will hope for a clear view of the soaring, glacier-covered Antisana volcano. After braving the thin air and chilly winds of the high Andes, we take the edge off a day in the field by soaking in high-elevation hot springs.

Howler MonkeyAfter wrapping up our highland visits, we spend a day in Cumbaya creating GIS (geographic information system) projects based on GPS data collected in the cloud forest and paramo. Students also have a chance to further explore the town and practice their Spanish. The next day we descend down the Pacific slope to the warm coastal lowlands where we will study the endangered tropical dry forest ecosystem. Students spend two weeks in Ceiba's Lalo Loor Dry Forest reserve, one of the finest examples of this ecosystem remaining in Ecuador. TarantulaWe are put to bed each night by the croaking of frogs, and awoken each morning by the roaring of Howler Monkeys. Morning birdwatching walks may yield glimpses of parrots, toucans, brilliantly colored tanagers, hummingbirds, stunning trogons, and many more. Night walks are sure to yield a look at the reserve's abundant, though harmless, tarantulas. Course content focuses on insect collection and identification, avian survey techniques, and other field methodologies. Students develop and conduct independent research projects in the reserve, honing their skills as research scientists. While at Lalo Loor, we will take a few side trips to explore the beaches of the Pacific Ocean, and extensive mangrove estuaries full of breeding birds, including the frigatebirds made famous by their puffed-out red throat pouches. Research projects complete, we bid farewell to the monkeys, tarantulas, palm trees and crashing waves of the coast, and return to Cumbaya. There we will work on more advanced GIS mapping and analysis projects, and take care of important matters: washing muddy field clothes, updating our Facebook pages with new coastal photographs, and phoning friends and family. We'll take also a day to visit the famed outdoor artesan market of Otavalo, where highland Quichua people still wear their traditional dress, and speak their own ancient language: it'sa perfect opportunity to purchase gifts for friends at home, and perhaps a wool hat or locally-made jewelry as a memento of Ecuador.

Orange-cheeked ParrotFor our culminating adventure we are whisked by plane, bus and canoe to the incredible Tiputini Biodiversity Station, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.  Orchid at El PahumaAt Tiputini, students will be immersed in a superb example of primary rainforest, and will have the opportunity to see and study its plant and animal community in detail. Wildlife present at the field station include 10 species of primates, 5 species of cats, tapir, tayra, peccaries, pink river dolphins, and over 540 species of birds including the not infrequently seen King Vulture, Harpy Eagle, Salvin's Curassow and Blue-and-Yellow Macaw. Parrots and Toucans are seen and heard every day, as are a variety of fascinating insects, amphibians and reptiles. Tiputini is situated right in the center of one of the world's "diversity hotspots," in the world-famous Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, and is known as the most biologically diverse place on the planet. A week studying the forests and streams of Tiputini is facilitated by an extensive trail network, a canopy tower and canopy walkway system, a fleet of canoes providing access to the Tiputini river and nearby streams, and of course the Station's excellent staff of knowledgeable guides. Morning floats offer chances to spot a tapir or peccary swimming across the river, and parrots feeding at a salt lick; nocturnal floats reveal the many caimans that call the river home, and perhaps the elusive Night Monkeys. After our week in the Amazon, we wistfully depart, retracing our steps up the Tiputini River, overland to the Napo River, and back to Cumbaya. After a joyous but bittersweet final banquet, and a few hours of sleep, it's off to the airport for early departures back to the USA.

The Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation is a non profit organization offering field courses taught by highly experienced and knowledgeable staff virtually at cost.  Our field courses provide quality education in comfortable conditions, while taking you to some of the most remote and pristine ecosystems left on earth.  Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Please consider joining our Facebook group, where you can meet former students and ask them to talk about their experiences in Ecuador.

Obtaining Academic Credit

Ceiba's tropical ecology course is fully accredited by the University of Wisconsin - Madison's International Academic Programs Office (IAP) for students at any US institution. All students receive 4 honors credits for their participation in the course. Please contact the IAP office for additional enrollment details (106 Red Gym, 716 Langdon St., 608-265-6329, website). UW charges additional fees for granting course credit (see UW IAP course page for details).

Credit for Foreign Students

Students from universities outside the US must arrange credits through their home institution. Prior students on our summer course have had no difficulty making these arrangements. We suggest you start by contacting your undergraduate academic advisor or department to discuss options such as enrolling in independent study.  Ceiba will provide you with a formal transcript and complete syllabus, and will collaborate with your university before and after the course to ensure you receive the proper credits.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Thanks to private donations made by Ceiba's supporters, we again will offer two complete scholarship to Ecuadorian students only, chosen through a rigorous application process.  We believe strongly in offering scholarships to citizens of the country in which we conduct our courses, since these opportunities are often beyond the financial reach of local students.  If you are Ecuadorian and interested in obtaining a scholarship, please check the scholarship page for special application instructions.

Students from the University of Wisconsin - Madison are eligible for financial aid from the university (please contact the International Programs office for details: email, web).  For all other students, we recommend you check with your home institution's study abroad and financial aid offices for information on sources of support for travel and study oversees. There are also several online resources available. 

Pre or Post Course Opportunities

Students that wish to spend additional time in Ecuador before or after the course volunteering in one of our reserves, learning Spanish, assisting in field research or traveling should advise Ceiba at the time of application.  Ceiba may be able to assist you in making arrangements in advance.  You may also wish to check our volunteer page, on which we regularly post volunteer internships that are available with our projects.

Course Information and Application

Course Packet - PDF

The course packet is required reading for anyone interested in applying or already enrolled! Includes a thorough course description, syllabus of lectures and field activities, recommended and required gear lists, travel information, application instructions and printable application forms.

Request a Course Packet be sent to you by Mail

Send us an email including your current mailing address so we can send you the packet and application forms by postal mail. Or use this option to have a packet emailed to you if you have any trouble downloading materials off our site.

Application Instructions

All instructions and forms are available on the University of Wisconsin's study abroad application website. International students only, please visit Ceiba's online application. All application materials must be completed before the deadline for your candidacy to be considered.

Application Deadlines

The program application deadline is the first Friday in March . Please direct all application materials to the UW - Madison's office of International Academic Programs; if an international student, or if you do not wish to receive credits for the course, please send all materials directly to Ceiba.

Tropical Conservation Semester

Ceiba now offers a total conservation experience in Ecuador!.  This semester-abroad program combines intensive Spanish, homestays with local families, and classroom lectures with extensive field excursions (more than half the semester!) to Ecuador's diverse tropical ecosystems.  We cover the entire country, from the glacier-capped Andes to the legendary Galapagos Islands to the remote and majestic Amazon rainforest.  Students receive training in standard field methods for ecological research, explore active conservation sites, and work for one month with a local conservation or scientific organization.  More information for the TCS semester program is available online.


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