Tropical Ecology,
Ecosystems, and Evolution

This course provides an in-depth survey of the geography, natural history and ecology of major terrestrial ecosystems in the tropics. Its goal is to provide the scientific background necessary for effective conservation of terrestrial ecosystems. We spend three weeks immersed in the riches of the Amazon rain forest, at the world-famous Tiputini Biodiversity Station. We also tour Ceiba conservation projects in the orchid-rich cloud forest of the Andes (see Where We Go). Because conversion of forested land for food production is an inevitable threat to terrestrial ecosystems, we visit examples of dominant land uses such as oil palm and banana plantations, cattle ranches and “slash and burn.”

Comparisons between habitat types, and between temperate and tropical systems, will be made extensively throughout this course. Ecological concepts will be presented in the context of ecosystems we will visit, where field and classroom lectures will cover the biology and ecology of major taxonomic groups, their evolution in each ecosystem, and human uses and threats.  Field work will be integral to the course, and will include guided hikes and instructor-led mini-projects designed to teach ecological research methods.

At the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, you will live in one of the most diverse places on earth. There you will engage in discussions about the impacts of oil development, timber harvest, and the acculturation of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.  In a small-group research project you will learn to test hypotheses about phenomena that spark your curiosity, and collect and analyze field data.  Guided excursions will expose you to the astounding diversity of tropical habitats, in blackwater and whitewater rivers, salt licks and the soaring majesty of the rainforest canopy.