Tropical Conservation Semester
Course Descriptions

Ceiba has been dedicated to tropical conservation and community sustainability for over 20 years, and every aspect of your semester draws on that experience.  You’ll master the classroom fundamentals of conservation, marine biology, and tropical ecology, then travel to pristine sites to test that knowledge.  We see conservation as inherently multi-disciplinary, and have built our courses to reflect that ideal: everyone who enrolls has something unique and valuable to contribute, and subjects as diverse as economics, law, mathematics, engineering, and communication all play an important role.

Tropical Ecology,
Ecosystems, & Evolution

Field sites: Amazon Rainforest, cloud forest, coastal dry forest, Andean paramo, and the Galapagos Islands

The Tropical Ecology course provides an in-depth treatment of general principals of ecology and evolution, and a survey of major tropical ecosystems.  You’ll study the ecology and conservation status of flora and fauna in each system, practice methods for biological surveys and monitoring, and learn about key environmental threats — all necessary elements for executing successful conservation projects.  Visits to Ceiba’s El Pahuma Orchid Reserve and Lalo Loor Dry Forest, plus a three-week stay in the Amazon Rainforest highlight this hands-on learning adventure.

Lecture topics cover the natural history and ecology of major taxonomic groups, their adaptations in each ecosystem, the origins of South American flora and fauna, causes for high tropical biodiversity, and the many types of plant and animal interactions that drive natural selection.  Field activities train you in standard methods for ecological research, including primate behavior observations, plot-based diversity surveys, GPS use and GIS mapping, water quality, mistnetting for birds, pit trapping terrestrial insects, and much more.  You’ll learn to identify flora and fauna characteristic of each habitat type, including over 25 plant families.  The course culminates in a small group research project which you will plan early in the semester, and carry out in the Amazon Rainforest during our two-week stay at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station.  (4 credits)

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Marine Biology of
Coastal & Reef Ecosystems

Field sites: rocky tidepools, sandy shorlines of Ecuador's central coast, Machalilla National Park, Amazon and the Galapagos Islands

The Marine Biology course delivers an introduction to oceanography and an exploration of the ecology, evolution, and conservation of marine environments including coral reefs, mangroves and the deep sea.  We discuss the many ways humans rely on the seas, how oceans interact with global climate, and how fisheries and marine reserves are managed.  Three weeks in the Galapagos Islands, including a cruise of the islands and a local family home stay, plus leading your own underwater research, make this course a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Lecture topics include the basic biology of fishes, how to identify major groups of fishes underwater, the role of predation and defense in shaping marine food webs, the connections between planetary atmospheric patterns and global ocean circulation, the role of plankton as the base of marine food webs, a survey of major fisheries techniques, and in-depth discussions of the ways fisheries are managed.  Field activities include biodiversity surveys in rocky tidepools, underwater data collection along transects and in plots, behavioral observations of fishes defending algae gardens, measurement of water clarity and salinity, and assessment of the effects of these factors on marine fauna.  Once we reach the Galapagos, you and your team will conduct a research project on San Cristobal Island, where you may study sea lion behavior, habitat associations of reef fishes, sea turtles age and gender demographics, or the role of predatory fishes and sea urchins on algae cover.  (4 credits)

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Conservation Biology
and Global Sustainability

Field sites: Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve, Antisana Volcano Ecological Reserve, El Pahuma Orchid Reserve, Lalo Loor Dry Forest, Galapagos National Park

Conservation Biology offers you a thorough introduction to the science of conservation biology combined with experiential learning in terrestrial and marine systems of conservation concern.  You’ll master the theories behind conservation solutions, and address concepts such as habitat loss and fragmentation, population biology, land use, and reserve design and management.  The course runs concurrently with the terrestrial and marine ecology courses, such that conservation problems and approaches are considered simultaneously with the aspects of the basic biology, ecology and natural history of these systems.  This course exposes the multidisciplinary and complex nature of conservation problems, and the interplay among their biological, physical, social and economic drivers.  Emphasis is place on the need for pairing conservation with sustainable development in the context of the rural communities and locally-run reserves we visit.

Lecture topics include the relative strengths of ex-situ and in-situ approaches, the design and placement of reserves, the management of protected areas and their buffer zones, the effects of forest fragmentation on plant and animal communities, integration of rural communities in conservation planning and reserve management, the contribution of sustainable agriculture to preservation of biodiversity and landscape connectivity.  Field activities include visits to Ecuadorian protected areas and the comparison between national parks, ecological reserves, and other designations; we visit Ceiba conservation sites at the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve and Lalo Loor Dry Forest, where you will have an opportunity to interview landowners and staff about the challenges they’ve confronted and the successes they have enjoyed.  (3 credits)

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Spanish Language and
Latin American Culture

Sites: Quito, host families in Cumbaya and on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos, plus all the reserves and research stations and communities we visit during the semester

You will be paired with an Ecuadorian host family in the attractive university town of Cumbaya, just outside Quito, and be placed in a condensed Spanish language course led by native speakers.  Pre-course placement exams ensure you receive training appropriate to your existing command of the language.  Intensive classes teach grammar, vocabulary and the richness of Latin American culture, helping you to adapt smoothly to life in Ecuador and communicate effectively during the program and beyond.

Classes take place on the campus of our partner university (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) for 3 hours per day, four days per week, and are given by credentialed USFQ faculty.  The course curricula are designed to advance each student to the next level of their university Spanish language sequence.  Class activities involve discussions of Latin American culture, Ecuadorian history, current political and social issues, and also include vocabulary specific to the conservation and ecology topics you’ll be learning about in your other classes.  (3 credits)

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Internship in Conservation
and Community Development

Field sites: choose between rainforest, cloud forest, coastal dry forest, marine reserves, lowland organic farms, highland chocolate farms, or rural communities across Ecuador

Put your knowledge of the ecology, conservation, culture and language of Ecuador to work in ongoing conservation, research, or development projects!  You’ll work with a local organization to gain practical experience and contribute tangibly to projects in habitat protection, ecological research, environmental education, or sustainable development.  Choose among internships located in field stations in the Amazon, dry forest, or mountainous cloud forest, or be placed in rural communities on Ecuador’s coast.

Early in the semester, you’ll make contact with one or more organizations of their choice to set up your internship placement.  Ceiba maintains a list of organizations from which you may select, but past students have also established new contacts with organizations or faculty researchers whose interests align with their own.  Final placements depend in part on your language skills and interests, and the current needs and priorities of host organizations.  During the first few weeks of the semester you will discuss the details of possible projects with host organizations; you’ll also have follow-up meetings with your Ceiba instructors to discuss what internships would be best for you.  Before spring break, you will have chosen and organization and project on which to work, and signed an internship agreement with your future supervisor in which all your responsibilities and project goals are detailed.  (2 credits)

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